Season Two. Episode Fourteen: Crime. Part One.

Episode Fourteen: Crime. Part One.

Maximilien was woken suddenly by the lights flickering on, painfully bright. He tried to turn his head towards the wall but the white tile simply reflected the light and he groaned.

His eye sight had always been questionable, but in bright light it degraded to the point when he wasn’t even able to make out simply shapes or judge distance. Here, the world was nothing more than a white blur.

Max’s arms were still secured around his back and he wasn’t confident he could right himself without doing serious harm to his shoulders. So he simply rocked back on his heels and sat back. His stomach growled. It seemed like it had been a very long time since he’d eaten the bread that Richard had taken from Rain’s house.

He put aside the ache in his legs and stomach and closed his eyes, blocking out the worst of the painful light.

Under his breath he began to recite, “Men, be kind to your fellow-men; this is your first duty, kind to every age and station, kind to all that is not foreign to humanity.”

XXX

Rain was awake with the hypothetical sun, newly showered and dressed in one of the Bastille’s uniforms. She sipped her coffee and watched Robespierre, who had hardly moved from his corner. She frowned and zoomed the feed in on his face.

“Audio?”

The computer beeped in compliance and she listened carefully. Hardly louder than a whisper, Robespierre was speaking, “What wisdom can you find that is greater than kindness?”

“What’s he doing?” The young female guard, Jerkins, asked.

“Experimental android protocol. He’s reciting his last orders,” Rain mumbled distractedly.

She glanced over and saw Jerkins frowning ever so slightly.

“Aren’t you supposed to be doing something? Like rounds?” Rain flicked her hand at the young woman.

Jerkins frowned but stiffly turned around and the gentle hiss of the doors marked her exit. Rain sighed and looked back at the screen. Robespierre was still mumbling under his breath.

Rain tilted her head and brought up his biographical information. “Born in Arras, lawyer, revolutionary, blah, blah, blah, off with his head. Hmm. Who is this?” She tapped under the relations tab and scrolled through a list of family and friends. “I didn’t know you had siblings. Let’s see what else you’re hiding shall we, Maximilien?”

A half an hour later, Rain was still glued to the screen eyes flick over the text rolling by. She didn’t notice the hiss of the doors again. However she nearly hit Chikara with her cane when the short woman bent over her and asked, “What are you doing?”

“Spirits!! Don’t do that! Didn’t your mother ever teach you not to sneak up on people?”

Chikara leveled a flat look at her. Rain sneered back.

“Doctor, the only reason I’m allowing this freedom right now is so you will figure what to do about the problem you caused, now tell me, what are you doing?”

“Keep your skirt on. I’m looking through his biography, seeing who he was close to, what he liked to do, what he hated.”

“What’s the point of doing this? Are you deliberately trying to-” Chikara started, a ferocious snarl on her face.

“Well I can’t very well break him if I don’t know him!” Rain snapped. “If I don’t know how to manipulate his emotions than all we’ll do is hurt him physically. We need to get inside his head, figure out his regrets, his internal dissent. And then we can start, and not before I say!” Rain stood up, fairly towering over the much shorter Chikara.

However the Major didn’t flinch and steeped closer to the scientist. “You do not give the orders here Doctor Miller. You will listen to me, and now you will follow this order, I want your plan for him by the end of the cycle.”

The two women stared at each other, each with mounting dislike. Finally Rain slowly sat down.

“Yes, Major Haruka.”

XXX

Richard woke suddenly, from what felt like a dreamless sleep. He blinked, and for one moment felt incredibly disoriented by the familiar surroundings. However the sounds the sounds were all wrong. There was no gentle clattering of the black smith or the chatter of servants. It was nearly silent in the keep.

Richard dressed in the same clothes he’d been wearing since they’d left Rain and went downstairs. There was no one around and Richard walked through the grand hall, running his hand along the table. It was polished to a high shine and the grain was so smooth Richard could hardly feel it.

He crossed over to the strange hole in the wall that dispensed food and clothing and stared at it.

“Alright, you enchanted wreckage. It’s just you and I now,” he told it. The glowing stone panel didn’t make any noise, but Richard scowled regardless. He raised his hand and braced himself for battle.

Ten minutes later, after an extended spar, he finally had a plate of small cakes, something called ‘syrup’ and a dozen pieces of salted and fried pork belly.

“I’m glad we could come to an understanding,” he smirked at the machine. It beeped submissively.

He sat down at the table and began to eat.

He was through his stack of cakes, his fingers stick with the syrup when Leonardo arrived. His brown hair was damp and even curlier as a result. He was also wearing new clothes as well.

“Where did you get those?” Richard asked in lieu of greeting. Leonardo blinked at him.

“From the replicator, in my rooms. Don’t you have one?”

“What?” Richard scowled. “No I didn’t.”

“Oh. Perhaps you can ask Magpie for a change. I don’t know how many rooms with replicators there might be.”

Leonardo shrugged and wandered around the room, examining the wall tapestries and the panels embedded in the stonework.

“Aren’t you going to eat?” Richard asked, swallowing a bite of the pork. He dragged it through the syrup. It was fairly palatable, he thought.

Leonardo shrugged again, fingers working over the panel. “If I get hungry I suppose…”

They both turned when the far door, the one that was made of metal, not wood, opened and Aspen Strong walked in, brushing her real hand through the myriad of tiny and dyed braids she had. She was mid yawn when she caught sight of them and her eyes opened wide.

She coughed. “Oh my god I almost forgot you guys were here! Good morning.”

“You forgot you had the risen dead in your protection?” Leonardo said dryly and Richard snorted. Aspen grinned and put her metal hand on her hip.

“It was easier to write it off as a dream, believe me. Anyway, is anyone else here yet?”

Richard shook his head. “I haven’t seen anyone.”

Aspen nodded and walked over to the machine. “Magpie will be here soon. They’ll want to talk to you both, one on one. Then Kami and Harm will want to show you the program we used to find you.”

She laughed, and tapped a button on the machine, which chirped happily. She took out a mug.

“Do either of you drink coffee? I take it like a weakling with a lot of cream and sugar but I think it’s gross otherwise.”

“Sugar?” Leonardo asked, interest piqued. Aspen grinned and handed over another mug. Which just meant that Richard also had to have it.

By the time Magpie, with Harm and Kami arrived, Aspen, Leonardo and Richard were had lined up a dozen coffee mug and aspen was explain what was in each and having them try it.

“Spirits! You’re going to give them a heart attack, Aspen!” Magpie fretted.

Aspen waved them off. “They’re fine, there’s not that much espresso in it.”

Richard was beginning to feel rather odd, and shook his head. Leonardo’s eyes were rather wide.

Magpie glared at Aspen and swept up all the cups. “We’re not here for this, and we’ll get them introduced to modern food gradually. Today I want to show them Harm’s program.”

Richard nodded and they followed Magpie up the stairs, to where Harm was already setting up. The dark skinned man grinned at them.

“Welcome to the historical figure finder!”

Aspen snorted. “You’re gonna want to work on that name.”

Season Two. Episode Thirteen: Illumination. Part Three.

Episode Thirteen: Illumination. Part Three.

“This is unbelievable!” Clio snapped and crossed her arms.

Next to her, Spectra snorted. “No kidding. Usually I do all of the animal work, but it seems you have a regular mixed bag of genres, friend.”

They were standing and watching as Doctor Rainbow Miller’s dogs dug into a cluster of recycling cans on the edge of the a small mountain town.

The dogs had run all day and night and were now nearing what used to be the old town of Boulder. The puppy, the fluffy little dog with eyes like black buttons seemed to be having the time of her life, rolling in rotted produce and buffalo. The bigger dogs were more sedate but rooted through the trash none the less.

Clio threw her hand up. “Unbelievable. I’m one of the oldest and most respected Muses on all of the Orphan Planet. I’ve been seen entire religions be built, then thrive and crumble into dirt. I’m the last direct descendent of Zeus! And where does it get me?” She stamped her foot and tossed her head, her one eye flashing dangerously. “Dog watching, and babysitting the dead.”

Spectra laughed her high dangerous cackle, throwing her head back and grasping her sleek white pantsuit in her clawed hands.

“Oh go away trickster. You have other mortals to torment!” Clio shouted.

Spectra grinned, sharp teeth peeking past her lips. “You bitch now, but when the Man recalls you, you’ll be sad to leave your babies as always. Also dog sitting is no bad gig.”

Clio huffed and turned away. Spectra left.

“Stupid hyena. If you lived in my time Heracles would have skinned you and made you a loin cloth.”

XXX

Ava stiffly sat on the edge of the pack, head lifted and turned to the breeze to catch the scent of the close by human settlement. They’d found an abandoned hole to cluster together in and now she sat sentinel.

The pack had run all day, despite Baby and sometimes Jep, the spaniel needing to be carried in one of the larger dog’s mouths.

“Waiting on your human?” An amused voice asked and Norma crept out of the shadows, her long low body brushing along the ground.

“No. I will never wait on a human,” Ava swore. Norma yawned and laid down on her side.

“You do know must humans aren’t Rain, right? Most of them seem to be kind to us and ours.”

Ava didn’t respond, lifting her nose higher.

“We can go over the mountains. There’s an ocean on the other side. Rain’s males might have gone there,” Norma told her quietly.

“We’ll go around them, towards the north.”

Norma huffed in understanding. They two dogs watched the dark night sky.

“I’ve heard it said that at one point, when our ancestors roamed this land that there were countless pinpricks of light in the sky, called stars. I saw them once on one of Rain’s machines.” Norma spoke softly, a hint of wishing in her high whine.

Ava looked upward. She couldn’t see anything other than the velvety darkness.

“Do you think we’ll see stars?” She asked the older dog.

Norma rolled over and tucked her forepaws down towards her chest.

“Someday maybe. Let’s think of tomorrow, for now.”

“For now,” Ava agreed.

XXX

Leonardo sighed and sat down on one of the cots.

The tour had finally left, the high childish voices echoing in the stone hallways. He and Richard crept back down, Richard grumbling about having to sneak around his own home, and found themselves in the middle of some mild chaos. It seemed to be the status quo.

“We can’t just turn them out, Marie is still out there!” Aspen was saying loudly to Jerome, whose hands were held up in either platitude or protection.

“I’m not saying that! I’m just saying that we need to think this through first, alright?” Jerome said steadily.

“There’s nothing to think about,” Magpie declared, their hands on their hips. “We’re having them stay, until we can figure out a more permanent place.”

“More permanent?” Leonardo asked, bemused. Everyone’s head twisted around to stare at them.

“Well yes. While we can’t return you to your own time, there’s no reason you can’t live comfortably on earth,” Magpie said.

“But what about?” Richard gestured to the back of his own neck. “Won’t your government know?”

“Not if you live carefully. You won’t be able to use transporters or move around very much, but there’s low tech villages that still exist, ones where people aren’t expected to flash their neck for every little thing,” Harm said.

Leonardo nodded, but his heart sank. What was the purpose of his mind if he was simply going to fritter it away in some village? Was that what he’d gone to Florence for? To Milan and Rome?

Next to him Richard didn’t look any happier but, he seemed to sink in on himself, exhaustion finally making his shoulder bow.

“Right well, that’s settled. Now we’re going to set you up with rooms for the night, it’s been a long day,” Magpie ordered. The look on Richard’s face as he was ordered to bed in his own home was quite amusing.

Leonardo’s new room was in one of the towers, with a simple desk and a cot that had been quickly replicated and assembled. The narrow window allowed a shaft of sunlight in, but Leonardo yawned hugely. It was past seven but the sun was still high. He theorized that it was because England was so much further north than Italy had been.

He turned his face toward the pillow, yawning again. Leonardo could hardly remember being so tired in his entire life. He wondered where Robespierre was, if he was safe or already dead. He wondered what stone Middleham was made out of, he wondered what made Richard’s spine twist…

Leonardo fell asleep still asking questions.

Season Two. Episode Thirteen: Illumination. Part Two.

Episode Thirteen: Illumination. Part Two.

Maximilien Robespierre decided he was really very tired of being dragged around. His vision was blurred and every few steps he stumbled as the guards marched quickly down a long curving corridor. The lighting was a flat washed out yellow light, and when he squinted at the walls, it didn’t seem like there were any windows.

Where on earth was he?

The woman who’d barked orders and had his glasses taken had said it was the Bastille, but that was impossible. That most hated symbols of tyranny was gone, he’d lived through its deconstruction. Seen it’s crumbling sad architecture himself.

How could this be the Bastille?

Maximilien was jerked from his theories when the guards made a sharp right and he nearly twisted his ankle on their boots.

He was released and he stumbled away from them, hands subtly out so he could feel if he was going hit something.

“Take your clothes off,” was all the one of the escorts said. Max gaped.

“Excuse me?” He managed to get out of his strangled vocal cords. One of them moved and he realized that they were both likely armed. A cold sweat broke over his skin.

“Remove them or we will do it for you,” she insisted.

Max hesitated, but just for a touch too long because the next thing he knew one of them caught his wrists, twisting them around to hold them behind his back and the other was cutting his clothes away with quick efficient movements. Stunned he froze before trying to twist his hands out of the tight grip.

“Stop resisting,” she ordered and lifted his wrists higher up his back. Now trying to move made it feel as if he was going to break his own arm.

Maximilien grit his teeth as the sharp blades ran along the front of his torso, his shirt falling open. His heart raced and a grey fog swirled around the edge of his vision.

“Why are you doing this?” He burst out, the shirt pushed off his shoulders to fall in scraps at his feet.

Neither answered, and he gasped as his hands were pulled yet higher. His belt was ripped away and he screwed his eyes shut as both his trousers and small clothes were pulled down to his ankles. A firm grip on his ankle and one shoe, then the other, was removed.

Max’s wrists were finally released and he swayed, rooted to the spot, as the feeling came back to his hands. The guard behind him nudged him forward.

“Step into the shower. We’re not done yet,” her palm was warm in between his shoulder blades. The touch made him shudder.

They made him place his palms on the cool tile in front of him. However when the cool touch of metal was applied to the back of his neck, he gasped and lashed out.

“Grab him!”

Arms like steel crushed him and another strong hand grabbed the back of his neck, and pushed his face into the tile. Max closed his eyes again and willed himself calm, shaking as the snip snip snip of scissor went all around his head, hair falling in tangled strands to the floor.

Maximilien was panting by the time they were done, heart racing and knees shaking. The arms released him and he sagged against the wall. Both of his guards backed away and he was privately grateful. Until the moment very cold water started pouring over him, He flinched away, but a barked out “Don’t move!” made him freeze.

The water pounded down on his newly shaved head and shoulders. It never became any warmer and his teeth were chattering by the time they were done.

He was grabbed again and this time his hands were firmly locked behind his back in crossed metal cuffs before they grabbed his arms and started marching him down the corridor again.

Max shivered as they walked for a very long time. It could have been in circles for all he knew, everything here looked the same, but eventually they stopped, and he was pushed into another room. This time, without his hands to catch himself, he stumbled and landed painfully on his bare knees. By the time Max righted himself, his guards were gone and there was slightly blue haze on the air.

Head spinning Maximilien stared, as if he could will them to reappear and explain what in the hell just happened.

His heart beat slowed as Max concentrated on breathing. He pushed himself to his feet, and slowly walked over to the blue haze. He took a deep breath and stepped forward.

Or he tried to, because when he brought his bare foot into contact with the haze it felt as if someone had splashed cognac onto an open would, stinging and burning along his toes and the ball of his foot.

He leapt back and hissed quietly. He squinted as he looked around, trying to make out the greater details of his room-his cell.

It was a plain white tile room. There was not bed or mattress, no chair or desk, no windows. He walked the circumference and nearly broke his ankle when he stepped into a hole that he assumed was meant to serve as a commode. And that was it.

Max sat down, cross legged, in a corner of the cell. His back pressed into the smooth tile, and feet braced flat on the floor. It was cold and he shivered again.

Had Richard and Leonardo gotten away?

Were they, like him, trapped in here somewhere?

Had they been killed in the struggle? The last he’d seen was Leonardo being pulled away and he’d assumed that he’d done the sensible thing and run away, but now Max was realizing that it might not have been that simple.

He tilted his head back and stared at the ceiling, squinting slightly. These lights were likely going to cause a massive pulsing headache in his temples before long but, that seemed like the least of his problems currently.

Maxime sighed.

Why did that women who’d arrested him, taken his glasses, and put him in here seem to hate him so? And would she see him through to a trail, or was this a classic, common case of injustice, as Max had fought against during his life?

He curled up tighter, and rested his forehead on his knees, his back protesting.

What would happen to him now?

XXX

Rainbow Miller spun her chair idly, her hands still handcuffed behind her.

“So now you have him naked and contained, hm Chikara? What comes next?”

Chikara Haruka stood next to her, hands placed neatly behind her back and feet even with her shoulders as she observed the first prisoner the orbital moon prison, the Bastille, had seen in two decades.

“You do, Doctor Miller.”

Rain stopped her spinning, looking up at the head of Federation security. “Me? I’m flattered Chikara, I never knew you thought so highly of me.”

Haruka looked down at her. “I don’t but you will put to rights what you have done, and it starts now.” She leaned down and pressed a button on the com station in front of Rain.

The doctor leaned forward, her long dark braid falling over her shoulder. She read the first few lines before slowly looking up at Chikara.

“This is about physical and mental interrogation techniques…”

Chikara nodded once. “Yes.”

Rain tilted her head. “I’m sorry but it was my impression that the Federation banned torture at the end of the last World War.”

Chikara stared at her. “Do you know why everyone in the Federation wears an ID?”

“It makes tax collecting simple?” Rain replied snidely.

“Because not only does it protect the population form each other, it also protect them from the government. ID and ID tracking is nearly public knowledge. It doesn’t take much to find anyone on any of the Federation planets or space stations. If you have a relative on a labor farm, you can easily check their wellbeing by just knowing their ID number,” Chikara explained.

Rain rolled her eyes. “I know. I’m one of the top scientists the Federation never hired. I know how the system works.”

“Then you’ll also realize that IDs prevent the Terran Federation from harming any of its citizens. All 80 billion of them are protected by public knowledge.”

“Yes, so?”

Chikara suddenly leaned down into Rain’s face, her dark brown eyes were like a tree struck by lightning.

“Except for three of them. The three you created and unleashed onto an unknowing population, with their savage ideas, and unknown contagions, and their violent hideous customs,” Chikara hissed, eye lashes fluttering with the force of her hate.

She straightened back up.

“And now Doctor Miller, you are going to help me and be in charge of cleaning up your mess. You are going to take apart that beast you’ve unleashed and when I find the other two, you’re going to do the same to them,” Chikara stabbed her finger empathetically at the screen where Robespierre was curled up into his corner.

Rain stared at her with wide eyes.

“Good god. And people say I’m a maniac,” she muttered. Louder she said, “No. I will not help you torture a man to insanity Chikara. I might play fast and loose but even I’m not that unethical!”

“You were unethical enough to bring these wretches back, weren’t you?”

“Yes but that was quick and painless! You’re talking about breaking a man’s mind on a metaphorical wheel, and I won’t do it.” Rain spun her chair around, chin up in the air. “You can have one of your kept scientists see to it and I’ll go directly to the labor farm, thanks.”

She heard Chikara sigh softly and after a moment a firm grip on her chair turned her back to the com station.

But now it wasn’t showing Maximilien. It was showing Kamala Manson.

“She’s your intern, correct?” Chikara asked, her tone crisp. “I have two officers following her and waiting on my word to be brought into custody. Her charge will be treason, just like you. She’ll serve right there with you on one of the Federation Farms in Arizona. I can arrange it,” her fingers snapped, “that fast.”

Rain’s mouth went dry. Kamala was walking along the Nile, her face buried in a tablet. Her wedding ring glinted in the sunlight.

“I will give you three seconds Doctor Miller, and then I will make the call.”

Kam had been so scared of the Labor Farms, she’d squealed immediately to Chikara’s husband.

“Three.”

She’d walked out on Rain, leaving her to her own devices. She didn’t even know about Robespierre or Richard.

“Two.”

This wasn’t her fault. Rain couldn’t destroy what might be a good, possibly great career of a kind young woman for that of ex-dead Frenchman.

Sorry Robespierre. Sacrifices have to be made sometimes and it looks like you’ve lost the day.

“On-.”

“Call your boots off. I’ll do it,” Rain snapped.

For a moment it looked like Chikara was going to do it anyway, but she pressed her communicator and ordered, “Abandon your target.”

Rain sighed and flexed her hands.

“Alright, you have what you want. Now take these cuffs off. I can’t very well find out how to destroy someone with my hands bound now can I?”

Season Two. Episode Thirteen: Illumination. Part One.

Episode Thirteen: Illumination. Part One.

“So let me get this straight,” Aspen held her head in her hands. She ground the heels of her hands into her eyes. “You, Leonardo da Vinci-”

“Si, madam.”

“And you, Richard the third-”

“Yes?” The former king growled around the bread in his mouth. Aspen wrinkled her nose at his table manners.

“Were brought back to life by a famous technical scientist-“

“Is Rainbow Miller famous?” Leonardo asked, voice pitched in interest. Magpie had given him a new notebook and he was sketching idly in it. From the way he kept glancing at her, Aspen had to guess that her arm was going to be on the first pages, which was flattering and bizarre. Leonardo was drawing her.

Spirits, what was her life?

“And you escaped after the alien she stole the technology from tracked her down at her house?”

“In her flying carriage,” King Richard added, gulping down beer. Magpie watched him with wide eyes, mouth half open in wonderment.

“Her flying carriage?” Kami asked voice weak.

“Si. It was magnificent,” Leonardo answered promptly. “It carried us from North America to France in a matter of hours!” He gestured expansively.

The entire Historical Society looked at each other. Kami and Harm grabbed each other’s hands under the table, Magpie’s eyes were focused on Richard, Aspen and Jerome stared at each other eyebrows raised.

“Do you know of any civilian vehicles that can make that trip?” Aspen asked out of the corner of her mouth. Jerome shook his head minutely.

“Maybe something that Miller was working on?” He offered softly.

Aspen shrugged helplessly, looking back up the table at the two men.

Richard as soon as getting “home” had asked, well demanded really, beer, bread, and venison stew. In that order. Magpie had nearly trampled Aspen in their eagerness for the staff room replicators. Typically, Magpie had already knew what kind of beer and bread to serve and Richard had dug into his meal as if he’d been starved. Aspen wondered if that was so far off. Both men seemed extremely exhausted and frazzled.

Aspen, for her part could hardly tear her eyes away from Leonardo, frantically sketching away, scratching at the paper. His eyes darted from face to face and all around the room.

“So after you got to…”

“Paris,” Leonardo answered promptly.

“Paris, what then? How did you get to Egypt?” Kami led the questioning.

“Robespierre led us through Paris, and we used the uh,” Leonardo looked over at Richard waving his hand about for the word.

“The light wizardry that moves people place to place.” Richard explained.

Kami looked at Magpie for translation. They blinked slowly, head tilted.

“The transporters?” They asked.

Leonardo smiled. “Si! Those!”

“You used the transporters? But how? You don’t have any IDentifiers,” Harm pointed out.

Leonardo shrugged. “We told them that Rain had ordered us to Egypt, and to use her pass.”

Harm groaned. “No wonder Haruka and Marie Rivera found you so fast. They would have been tracking Miller’s number.”

“Number?” Leonardo asked.

“The number that matches IDs. Everyone has one, well except for three recent additions to the Federation,” Harm gestured to Leonardo and Richard and including the absent Robespierre.

“Well that might also work in our favor too, since they can’t be traced back to us,” Jerome pointed out.

“Which is good since I don’t fancy going one on one with Marie,” Aspen muttered. She still had a sick oily feeling in her stomach about how close she’d come to Chikara’s right-hand.

“Where do you think they have taken Robespierre?” Leonardo asked Magpie. They shrugged.

“I don’t have much experience with the military side of the government, outside of where Haruka has tried to stop the Heritage reclamation projects. I’d have to guess somewhere is Cairo, likely in one of the holding cells in HQ.”

Leonardo frowned. “There’s no possibility of rescue?”

Aspen laughed before she could stop herself. Every head flung around to stare at her. Leonardo’s face was one of a man who was not used to being laughed at and clearly expressed she’d better have a damn good reason for doing so.

“Sorry, but if your friend-“

“Not a friend!” Richard barked out.

“If your associate is anywhere near the HQ then he’s irretrievable. Every guard there would have been handpicked by Chikara Haruka, trained and groomed to her standards. Then there’s the millions of diplomats there, and all of the administrators and that says nothing of the politicians. And if I had to bet, you and Richard are going to become the top of the Most Wanted. If you walk anywhere near HQ, it’s probably over for you,” Aspen explained.

Her declaration was met with silence, Leonardo cast his gaze down to the table, frowning slightly and Richard staring at her.

“Are you a solider?” He asked.

Aspen shrugged. “I was. Now I’m a security guard.”

Richard narrowed his eyes. “A body guard? For him?” He nodded at Magpie.

Everyone startled and looked at each other. Magpie flushed slightly, a deep red flush on their high cheekbones.

“Y-your highness, I’m sorry there’s been a misunderstanding,” they said. “I am not a man.”

At this Richard also blushed. “Oh, I’m sorry my Lady, I didn’t realize. My apologies,” he said gruffly. “During my time the ladies of the time wore their hair long.”

Everyone shuffled awkwardly. Aspen hadn’t ever realized how much stock she’d given to how obvious Magpie made their non-binary status evident. She hadn’t even thought about what pre 21st century people would think.

“No no, my lord. I’m neither a man nor a woman,” Magpie explained. “I don’t conform to either gender. My name is Magpie and that is who I am.”

Richard blinked at them, face serious. Leonardo’s jaw had dropped slightly, expression nearly vacant.

“You’re a eunuch?” Richard tried again, visibly struggling. Magpie shook their head, brushing a stay lock of shining silver hair from their eyes.

“No, simply… not gendered.”

With a hard twist to his mouth, Leonardo reached over and grabbed the spoon from Richard’s limp fingers and the fork next his elbow.

“So this is their fairer sex, si?” Leonardo asked, holding up the spoon. Richard looked over at him, eyebrow raised and nodded. Leonardo held up the fork. “And this represents man.” Richard nodded again.

Leonardo leaned over and grabbed the ceramic bread knife from where Richard had been slicing from the loaf. “So this is our new friend Magpie?” He looked over at them for confirmation.

“Yes, that’s mostly it.”

“You’re…a knife?” Richard asked, looking dubious. Magpie shrugged.

“Sure. Let’s say I’m and knife and I preferred to be called as such.”

Richard finally nodded, and Aspen breathed out. However Magpie beamed happily, clearly over the moon about sitting in the same room as their favorite historical figure.

Leonardo looked around at the rest of them. “And what do the rest of you do? Does the Federation support the decision to reside here?”

Kami raised her hand, ready to be ambassador of goodwill as always. “I’m Kami Susuki, and I came on as Public Relations manager for Magpie. Also we don’t live in Middleham, we just work here as part of the Heritage Reclamation project for the Federation.”

Leonardo nodded even though Aspen was sure there was no way he could have understood half of Kami’s spiel. The shorter woman gestured to Harm, sitting next to her.

“And this is my husband Harmony Susuki.”

He raised a dark hand, fingers rubbed smooth from his work on slick glass screens all day. “You can call me Harm for short. I work on all of the technical aspects of the Reclamation Project.”

“He’s the one who code- I mean wrote the program that found you.”

“Wrote the program?” Leonardo asked, a bemused twist to his lips.

Harm waved it away. “You’re pre-computers, and we’ll have plenty of time for me to explain all of this too you later, don’t worry.” Leonardo nodded, still looking unsure.

Jerome jumped in, grinning broadly at Leonardo. Aspen narrowed her eyes.

Jerome he’s recently returned from the dead, you don’t need to hit on him yet!

“Hi I’m Jerome, and I work with Aspen as part of Security for Middleham. Typically I work nights and I love Renaissance, uh, art!”

Richard snorted, tearing off another piece of bread. “What are you, a Moorish mercenary?”

Jerome frowned. “No I trained with Federation, like Aspen. But I went in specifically to serve as an officer for a posting on earth.”

Richard grunted, rubbing at his temple. Aspen noticed he seemed to do that a lot.

Leonardo sighed heavily and clasped his hands together in front of him, and rested his forehead against them as if he was at prayer. He looked up after a moment.

“We were told there is no possibility of returning home, to our own time,” he said softly. It wasn’t so much a question as a plain sad statement of a fact.

“Time travel doesn’t exist, it’s true,” Harm confirmed. “I’m sorry.”

Richard closed his eyes for a moment and Leonardo sighed again.

Then the most incredible thing happened.

Richard straightened up in his plain wooded chair, rolling his shoulders back and raising his chin up so he could meet the eyes of everyone at the table with a cool surveying stare. He placed his hands flat on the top of the table.

And in that moment, King Richard the Third, last of the Plantagenet dynasty was in the room.

Leonardo sat up as well, and Aspen saw that’s he’d carefully composed his face into a slightly worn but kind expression and she saw in her mind’s eye the artist who had served princes all over Italy and changed how the human body was looked at forever more.

“So, what comes next?” Leonardo asked, spreading his hands out, gesturing to the table at large.

Before anyone could collect themselves and answer his question, a loud mechanical tone sounded through the remade castle. Leonardo and Richard jumped and Magpie slapped their forehead.

“Oh my god! I forgot about the tour!”

“Tour?” Richard whipped his head around and asked Magpie. “What tour?’

“They’re from London, a bunch of primary student coming up to behold a piece of their history. Okay, the two of you are going to need to stay in one of our offices until it’s over. Come on, Harm, you go get Drizz and Blake.”

“Who?” Leonardo asked standing up as Aspen rushed over and grabbed Richard dishes with one hand and using the other to guide Leonardo away.

“Our tour guides. They’re repurposed retail androids that Magpie found and Harm fixed. Usually androids are just decommissioned but they’re good with groups and it’s easier than hiring. Now come on! I’d hate to try and explain you to a bunch of kiddies.” She dragged the Italian away, despite his head being twisted around as Kami opened the grand doors to hurry out to the grounds where the group was waiting.

She got them up the stairs to the staff rooms and pushed them into the break room. Richard took back his half empty bowl of stew, even though it must have been stone cold and sat gingerly in one of metal chairs.

“Whatever happened to wood?” He grumbled.

“It became a protected substance after mass deforestation and before replicators.” Aspen answered.

“Mass deforestation?” Leonardo said in alarm at the same time Richard dubiously said, “Protected substance?”

Aspen sighed and sat down. She figured she could leave it to Jerome to warn the kids off from touch the ancient artifacts. She had her own living artifacts to worry about now.

“Yeah well at one point wood was worth more than gold. You see when the earth population started to rise and we started to consume more…”

A Fiction Agreed Upon. Episode Twelve: Fraternite. Part Three.

Part Three.

Somewhere north of Boulder, Colorado.

Ava lifted her head, sniffing at the wind. Dusk had settled over the forest and all manner of small easily killed animals were merging from their holes. Between Bobby, Berwald and Lester the kill pile was quickly flowing with mice, birds and small rabbits. Jep sniffed at a rabbit, it’s throat torn out, and whined.

Ava huffed, shaking herself. “Don’t turn it away Jep. It’s food.”

The little spaniel whined again. “It’s bloody.”

Ava tossed her head. “You’ll get used to it.”

She trotted pas him to where Baby was flopped over in the shade of a tree. The long day run had been hard on the smallest member of the pack. Norma was looking after her.

“She’s not made like the rest of us. It’s exhausted her. We’ll have to give her all night and probably some of the daylight tomorrow to recover,” the Corgi said. Ava nosed the puppy, who whimpered.

“She’ll adjust,” Berwald growled from behind. There was a thump and Ava turned to see a freshly killed crow on the ground.

“This will be for naught if members of the pack start dropping from exhaustion and hunger,” Norma warned. Berwald bared his teeth at her, and Norma growled right back. Ava raked her large paw down the side of Berwald’s face.

“Stop it. Norma’s right. We’ll let Baby recover, and start south tomorrow evening. We head for the cities. We have to find our humans,” she ordered. Berwald crouched down low on his belly.

“Yes, alpha.”

He walked away, tail hung low, and catch in his mouth.

“You’re going to have to get that under control,” Norma sniffed.

Ava privately agreed but kept her tongue in her mouth.

XXX

Rain was working very quickly. Her fingers blurred over the touchpad.

She’d seen as Marie Rivera and Chikara’s private forces had taken Robespierre, throwing the man into the back of the transport vehicle. It was on its way to the Bastille even now, and Chikara herself was getting ready to meet it there. In the top of the line newly minted Moon Flyer, it would only take them about three hours to get up there. All Chikiara had to do was get her officers in line and arrange a cover story for her absence at HQ.

It was a miracle Rain was even still allowed to go anywhere without a body guard but everyone had been called to Chikara’s side as she announced her trip. Rain had snuck away and using a tricky piece of old-school hacking had gotten into her personal notes.
Notes that were now being uploaded to the internet.

“Information is meant to be free, chienne,” she whispered, grinning savagely at the screen. The process was destroying what she’d left on her personal sever and nesting it as a private program in the cloud.

It would take them months to find it, if they even could.

She finished her final keystroke, as the sound of boots approached the room. Quickly Rain shut the browser down and hit a hard shut down on the screen.

“What are you doing?” Asked the young guard.

“Looking at porn,” Rain answered flippantly. “Is Chikara ready then?”

She turned when a voice spoke from the front of the room. “Yes, Doctor Miller. Jerkins, put her in handcuffs. I think She needs to learn to keep her hands to herself.”

Chikara was dressed in her military uniform, dark blue with silver edging. “We are meeting Marie at the Bastille.”

Rain sneered. “Joy.” Her hands were securely crossed at the wrist behind her. Jerkins, the guard grabbed her shoulder securely. “Careful, I have a limp. You should carry me,” she told her.

Chikara ignored Rain’s irreverence. “Come. We’re leaving.”

XXX

Richard woke from uneasy sleep with Leonardo tapping insistently on his shoulder.

“Wake up. We’re near to Middleham,” the Italian told him. Richard noted the heaviness around his eyes and wondered if he’d slept at all.

He sat up and peered over Aspen Strong’s shoulder. They were descending, and he noted that the sun was beginning to set. His heart caught as he saw the familiar sight of the Keep.

“I have to fly this into the underground launch pad, we keep it out of sight for historical accuracy.” Aspen was carefully guiding the flying machine down. She angled it down and Richard could feel the floor under him tip forward as she gently descended into a large hole in the ground. It was dimply lit, and Richard could see other machines against the walls of the cave. It landed with a gentle thump and there was silence as the machine went dark.

Aspen opened the back of it again and hopped off the ramp. Feeling a little like cattle, Richard walked down it. After Leonardo followed him off and Aspen closed it she led her way back out of the hole. A metal door, like a drawbridge closed it after them. Richard breathed the smell of the distant river and the heather of the wind whipped moors. In the distance trees creaked and overhead some storm clouds were gathering. Richard could feel the building rain storm in his bones.

Over taking Aspen and Leonardo Richard strode ahead of them, needing no leading here. In his minds eye he could practically see George ahead of him in horseback, calling over his shoulder to ‘Hurry up Dickon!’

The main part of the castle was right ahead of him, and feeling his heart thumping in his chest, he jogged across the bridge to the main doors. This he knew, as if by instinct.

Richard’s arms strained as he pushed the doors open. The creaked but swung into the great hall.

His cousin seated on the dais at the end. His Lady Anne coming to greet him. His son. He’ll open the door and all will be right again. He’ll wake up from this dream and Edward will be alive and Richard will still be his most loyal servant. 

“Aspen’s back!” Someone shouted and Richard’s dream disintegrated before his eyes.

Several people, all but one darker than him, rushed into the hall and stopped cold. Richard was still hovering between the outer door and the hall, when a cold hard hand, like it was wrapped in a gauntlet, grabbed his good shoulder and pushed him in.

“Look what I brought!” Aspen cheered. “The king comes back!”

Leonardo came to stand next to him, looking around at the castle.

“So this is England?” He asked under his breath.

“The north, yes.” Richard aid back, watching as from the group of four as a shorter man pushed his way to the front. His hair was shaved all the way to his brown skin, except for the top of his scalp, where he had a tuft of silver hair. He was staring at Richard with almost unseemly amazement, mouth gaped.

“Uh you doing okay Magpie?” Aspen asked.

“Oh my god. It’s really you. It’s really Richard the Third,” he choked, eyes filling with tears. Richard shifted slightly, an unnerved prickling along his neck.

“Did Rivera get the other one?” One of the other men spoke up. He was looking at Aspen, who nodded.

“You’ll never guess who it was, Harm,” she hissed.

“And who is this one?” The shortest person there, who was still taller than Richard, whispered, looking at Leonardo.

The Italian bowed. “Leonardo ser Piedro da Vinci, at your service.”

The assembled group went quiet and even Magpie tore his gaze away from Richard.

“Leonardo…da Vinci?” Aspen asked slowly.

“Like the Mona Lisa, da Vinci?” The other woman asked. Leonardo tilted his head.

“The who?”

Magpie whipped out his tablet and quickly typed something in before turning it around. There was a small portrait of a woman who was smiling, her hands contently folded over each other. At first glance Richard didn’t think there was anything particular about it, but the longer he stared the more lifelike she appeared. He cast a surprised glance at Leonardo. He hadn’t know he was a court artist, clearly this was a woman of some import to have a portrait like this.

Leonardo brightened. “Ah! Si, Giaconda.”

The assembled group gasped.

Aspen put her metal hand to her head. “Oh my god. We kidnapped Leonardo da Vinci, and King Richard the Third.”

Magpie on the other hand was beginning to smile. He grasped each their hands in turn, shaking them enthusiastically.

“Gentlemen, I can hardly tell you what an honor it is to welcome you here to Middleham.”

XXX

Maximilien found himself jerked awake when the vehicle landed. He listened, heart pounding, as metal scraped along metal.

Could he possibly make a run for it once the door opened? He didn’t think so. Instead Max backed into the corner, resolute to at least make it difficult for them to dislodge him. The walls were nearly freezing to the touch, but he gripped them tightly.

The doors opened and light poured in. Instinctively he raised an arm to block it and there was a thumping as another person joined him in the vehicle. He was rudely grabbed and nearly pushed out of the box, stumbling and nearly falling onto his face.

Another set of hands grabbed his shoulders and whipped him around before he could get his bearings and his wrists were bound behind his back. He was pushed forward by a firm hand on the back of his neck.

“Move.”

Maximilien twisted, trying to dislodge it, heart rapidly thumping as memories of the guillotine rose within him.

“Non! I demand to-“

“Quiet, move!” He was shoved forward again, this time stumbling forward. His glasses slipped and his surroundings blurred.

They rushed him down a long dim hallway that seemed to curve continuously. Max was jerked still when they wheeled him around and brought him face to face with a featureless sliding door.

“Chief, we are bringing the android to you now. Security code forty-seven.”

The doors slid open and Maximilien was dragged in.

He shook his head, trying to see pas the shatter glass over his eyes.

A woman sat behind a desk, her dark hair pulled back into a neat bun. She glanced up at him and frowned.

“I told you to take those,” she nodded at Max, and someone pulled his glasses off. Now blind, Maximilien blinked rapidly in the harsh light.

“I am Maximilien Robespierre. Where am I?” He demanded.

She nodded at him again.

“Secure him in number five after processing.”

They started to drag him away.

“Welcome to the Bastille.”

A Fiction Agreed Upon. Episode Twelve: Fraternité. Part Two.

Part Two.

Aspen led them to another warehouse through the most convoluted means Leonardo had ever experienced. When he asked her why, she pointed to the corner of a building opposite them.

“See that? The black thing? It’s a camera. Its recording images of us and sending them to Federation surveillance. It’s actually how we found you guys. And probably how Chikara Haruka found you too. If the cameras catch us, they’re going to figure out who rescued you, and then it’s all over.”

She crouched low and moved quickly around the corners of the exterior of the warehouse. Leonardo and Richard followed.

For Leonardo, he kept replaying the instance of Robespierre’s capture in his head. How the Frenchman’s eyes had widen in terror, his fingers wrapped desperately around Leonardo’s wrist, as the soldiers tore them apart. He kept looking over his shoulder expecting the floating vehicle to appear to spirit them away as well.

Exhaustion was beginning to set in and he was relieved when Aspen finally opened the door to a warehouse. “Okay, this is it.”

They entered and Leonardo stared around at the dusty boxes, illuminated by the bright sunlight beaming down through the glass windows.

In the middle of the expensive and mostly barren room was a sleek looking machine, in a dull grey. It sat on three struts and arched like the shape of a predatory bird on a upward flap. Aspen walked to the back of it. They followed her, and she opened a ramp up into the machine.

“Okay, get in.”

Richard frowned but went forward, stepping on the metal ramp gingerly, as if not confident in its structural integrity. Leonardo followed him in then turned to see Aspen punch a button on the screen next to it, raising the ramp back up to close it.

She pushed by them to sit at the front of the machine. Leonardo watched as she tapped the flat panel and around them the machine came to life.

Aspen turned around and raised her eyebrows. “You’re gonna want to sit down,” she told them smiling slightly. Richard did so, gripping the edge of his seat as an added precaution.

Leonardo supposed he still remembered the adventure with Rain’s ‘carriage’.

Aspen typed commands quickly, and above them the ceiling of the building opened up. Leonardo guessed what was going to happen next and sat down, leaning over so he could watch out the large window in front of Aspen.

He felt the vibrations through the machine and the moment the unseen engine kicked in to lift it off the ground. Richard leaned back, with his eyes shut.

Despite the desperate situation Leonardo couldn’t help but feel a smile come over his face. He’d dreamt of flight for so long, and here, it was achieved by humans so easily.

They lifted up and out of the building, into the bright sunlight. He watched as Aspen effortlessly steered the flying machine by sliding her fingers over the glass panel. It tilted upwards and sped up, the clouds misting past.

“Where are we going?” Richard grit out, fingers curled into the bench.

“Um, the north of England. To a castle called Middleham,” Aspen said absently. Richard’s eyes flew open and he whipped his head around to stare at the woman.

“Middleham? It still stands? What of York?” He demanded.

“Yeah, I mean, it’s not the original, it’s basically all been rebuilt, but yeah it’s still there. Magpie the person in charge of it, they’ve been working to restore all of these old historical places.” She looked over her shoulder. “I’ll be able to explain more once the experts are here with us.” She laughed slightly. “I’ll be honest, I was never really into history in school…”

Leonardo suddenly chuckled, rubbing a hand into his eyes. The true absurdity of the situation was getting to him. “Va bene. Me either!”

Aspen grinned at him. “We should be there in in about 90 minutes. Maybe you should try sleeping?” She offered.

Leonardo wasn’t sure if he was going to be able to, his mind racing, and having lost his sketchbook in the scuffle with the soldiers.

Richard, however, swung his legs up onto the bench and draped an arm over his eyes.

“Wake me when we get to Middleham,” he ordered, and then fell silent.

Leonardo fell quiet too, but as he stared down at his hands, he wondered about where Robespierre was, if he was even still alive.

XXX

Clio adjusted her toga and ran a hand through her curly hair.

“You’re a right pain, do you know that? Now I have to follow two different lines of narrative,” she told the prostate figure, sitting where he’d been thrown on the floor of the government containment vehicle. He seemed to be in shock, his arms curled protectively around himself and shuddering every so often.

She huffed but kneeled down next to him. His glasses had been cracked, but it hardly mattered, she doubted that he would have been able to see anything anyway.

Clio sat next to him in silence for a while, observing the human.

She’d been born a muse, unlike many of her colleagues, and had always felt drawn to the invisible tide that connected stories. She felt that this one, the semi obscured figure in front of her, was going to be a keystone.

She couldn’t sit in the dark with him for long, Richard and Leonardo would reach York before Robespierre was, but she figured that even her presence might ease the tension in his soul.

XXX

For a long time Max was aware of nothing further than the darkness of the vehicle he found himself in. There were slight vibrations under his feet but further than that he couldn’t sense anything out side of the doors. He felt his way around the space but couldn’t find any handles on any of the walls, at last concluding that there weren’t any on the inside.

Finally Maxime sat down in one of the corners to wait. His fingers drummed on the metal surface and he chewed his bottom lip. His eyes ached to see anything in the darkness but it seemed to go on forever. He had the terrible feeling if he fell into it, it would consume him.

Closing his eyes brought little comfort, still aware of how cold and still the space seemed.

He laid down on his side and brought his knees to his chest for warmth. He wondered if Leonardo and Richard had gotten away or if they had been captured as well.

Exhaustion seemed to sink into his bones, and despite the cold and metal bruising him Max slowly feel into a fitful sleep.

A Fiction Agreed Upon. Episode Twelve: Fraternité. Part One.

Part One

“What do we do now?” Robespierre asked when they found themselves back on the street. Richard thought furiously. They had no allies, and no resources. They could return to Rain and see if they could lay low until the aliens left, but it seemed unlikely. Richard sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose.

“Leonardo? Opinions?”

The Italian shrugged. “I see very few. We have tried Paris, and now Egypt. Florence is gone. London seems to be the remaining choice.”

Richard scowled. “We should go to the North.” There was chance he might still be remembered fondly in York.

They started walking towards the industrialized area that Richard had seen as Kamala guided them to her house. Much to Richard’s disappointment, there seemed to be a large fence barricading the way in.

“We should head back to the transporters then, oui?” Robespierre asked. His nasal voice sounded quietly dejected.

“Si, we can go around the back of these warehouses to there.” Leonardo gestured offhandedly, staring at the machinery being built on the other side of the fence. “Look,” he stopped them both. “It’s all being built by machines.”

Richard took another glance and realized the Italian was correct. Without any men around at all machines seemed to be operating independently, lights flashing, beeping and clanging like the sounds of a thousand men-at-arms on horse back. They moved harmoniously. Richard saw them cross back and forth rapidly, never stumbling or crashing into each other as one would expect from such massive objects.

“That’s incredible,” he admitted. With one machine it was doing the work of a hundred men.

Robespierre was staring at them, lips pursed in thought. “Oui, but then, where do the people work?”

Leonardo tilted his head. “Maybe this world allows for everyone work as artisans, or grocers, or farmers.”

Richard snorted. “That’ll be the day. I bet most of them are in service to lords, as soldiers.”

Robespierre considered this. “Do you think that with machines doing all this work people have enough work? I mean, have either of you seen any deprived people, other than the students that we met?”

Richard thought about it and looked around. The streets were suspiciously clean and clear of the rabble one would expect in a large city like this. No beggars crouched in doorways or blind and crippled people languishing in the hot sun.

Leonardo seemed to have realized the same thing. “Maybe, there aren’t any.” He said slowly, wonder in his voice.

He and Robespierre were staring at each other in amazement.

“Could it be, that there is a place for everyone in this society? That everyone has a purpose and is happy?” Robespierre was beginning to smile, the scars on his face twisting. He placed a hand over his heart, seeming extremely moved by this concept.

Richard scoffed again, starting to walk on.

“That’s no’ possible.”

XXX

Aspen adjusted her earpiece again.

“Okay, it looks like they are headed towards the center of the city again. They’re next to the warehouse district, to the south. Just land in our warehouse and track them down from the street.” Harm was instructing her from Middleham, carefully tracking Richard and the other two men who seemed to be traveling with him.

“Affirmative Harm. Have you figured out what the hell I’m supposed to say to him once I’ve caught up?”

“Magpie is working on it, don’t worry.”

Aspen rolled her eyes.

It had taken them an hour to find the three after Richard had jumped into the transporters, going to Cairo of all places. After making sure it seemed like they were going to stay in the city for a moment, Aspen had jumped into a civilian transport glider.

Usually this was used to transport historical artifacts and exhibitions from place to place, and moved more slowly and sluggishly than Aspen was used to, having come from flight school. She wiped her sweaty palms on her pants and took a deep breath.

She was pretty sure this was about to count as treason, at least in Chikara’s eyes. If they were caugh…

But if he really didn’t have an ID, as Aspen suspected that he didn’t, Richard would be untraceable. And as long as she stayed in the blind spots, no one need ever know that it was Aspen who had anything to do with it.

She landed the glider in the warehouse and opened the back hatch. Then she picked he way across the crowded concrete floor, covered in pressure sealed boxes of artifacts that were so old, they’d circled from being priceless to being garbage.

Aspen slid the containment door open with a grunt, it protesting with a loud groan.

“Okay, tell me where to go, Harm.”

“Alright they’re heading north. Take a left and head them off a couple blocks up. Hurry though, they’re a little far ahead of you.”

“Got it,” Aspen knotted her braids back as she broke into a light jog. Thank the Federation for primary school track team. “Do you have a way to tell him to come with me yet?”

“Magpie says to tell him you are from Middleham. Maybe call him sire?”

Aspen snorted. “I’ll keep that in mind.”

“You’re getting close, a couple more meters and you’ll be on par with them.”

She turned her head to the right, eyes scanning for the shape.

It shouldn’t be hard, he’ll be one of the only white people in Cairo, she thought.

As she crossed siding of the last warehouse, she saw them. Slowing down to a trot, she turned to intercept them.

And stopped cold.

“Shit!”

Aspen spun back around the corner, and hissed, “It’s Marie Rivera!”

“What?!” Harm gasped. “Why is she here?”

“I don’t know but she’s coming up fast on them,” Aspen peeked around the corner again. “Fuck, this looks bad.”

XXX

Federation headquarters, Cairo, Egypt.

Behind Rain, Chikara Haruka stood perfectly still, arms crossed behind her back.

“Do you have them in your sights?” She asked to the viewscreen that was projecting what Marie’s combat contacts were seeing.

It was the warehouse district in Cairo, the streets barren and sunbaked. Just ahead of Marie, probably 20 meters, was Richard, Leonardo and Robespierre. They were walking quickly but clearly hadn’t realized that a group of armed soldiers were trailing behind them. She watched Richard and Robespierre argue back and forth and Leonardo intervene. Her stomach clenched.

Run, sense the fact you’re being hunted and run! Rain thought desperately.

“Yes, we’re approaching now.”

XXX

Richard was the first to notice. His eyes widened and he grabbed Leonardo’s arm. They all stopped.

“Those are the men from Paris, the ones who were around Rain’s flying carriage,” he said.

The black glad figures were walking quickly up to them and just behind them was another large carriage, painted in dark blue and silver. It blocked the street in it’s enormity and Richard started backing away.

“How did they find us?” Leonardo asked, bewildered. “We’re thousands of miles away!”

He grabbed onto Robespierre, who looked increasingly like a cornered hare.

“We need to run, come on!” Richard shouted and broke into a sprint. Behind him he heard the pounding of feet. However the end of the street was wide open, and so long as they could stay ahead of their enemy it would be fine.

XXX

“Yes, yes! Run this way, this way towards Aspen!” She muttered to herself, watching as the three men finally caught onto what was happening. Richard broke into a run, and despite his puny size he made good distance.

The other two, the ones the program hadn’t identified, weren’t getting as far. She watched horrified as the smallest male was caught around the waist and the tallest stopped to try and pull him from the soldiers grasp.

XXX

Rain had mentally cheered when the three had broken into a run but she watched as Robespierre was caught and Leonardo was surrounded. She hissed aloud as Richard broke back into frame, anger all over his face and fists flying.

“Use the riot gear!” Chikara harshly ordered.

Neck cuffs were brought out, aiming to capture Leonardo who was still determinedly hanging onto Robespierre’s arms. They got the hook around Frenchman, who cried out and struggled even more, attempting to twist himself away from who was grabbing at him. There was little chance now of escape for Robespierre now, however. They had him by the neck.

Run, just run! He’s toast, so get out of there! She thought desperately, hoping Richard and Leonardo would heed her advice.

XXX

“Leonardo come on!” Richard shouted over the scuffle, he could feel men closing in around him and the back of his neck prickled. This wasn’t a fight he could win, not alone. Robespierre seemed well and truly stuck, with a long black metal hoop around his throat, and being dragged back to the floating carriage. There was a second one approaching Leonardo and it was only when Richard forcibly grabbed the back of the Italian’s jerkin that he stumbled back.

“Robespierre!” Leonardo shouted in alarm as Richard caught his wrist and dragged him away.

“Arrêtez! Arrêtez! Leonardo!”

Richard glanced over his shoulder and saw Robespierre being forced into the carriage. He was utterly controlled by the black metal leash around his throat. They forced him to the back, Robespierre stumbling from the force they used. His glasses had half fallen off his face and Richard could read the true fear in his eyes. For one moment he could feel pity rise in his chest.

However there was no time dwell. He ran faster, hanging onto Leonardo to make sure he was following. The end of the street was near, and Richard counted on Leonardo to lead them back to the transporters. They could go to London, and seek sanctuary in Westminster.

They whipped around the corner and made it a meter before from the massive door of a warehouse, an arm shot out and dragged them in.

XXX

Thank you! Aspen thought frantically. Richard and Leonardo had run in the right direction. She hurriedly closed the warehouse door behind her. The two men were apparently too stunned to cry out as she held a finger to her lips and listened.

Boots thudded past. She heard Marie Rivera shout orders and more footsteps sprinted past.

“Do you have them? Where are you?” Harm demanded over the earpiece. Aspen ignored him, still listening closely.

“Who are you?!” The taller male demanded. She held out her hand, teeth grit. It sounded as if Haruka’s forces had moved on, as she couldn’t hear anything more from outside. Now all she had to do was get them back to the glider and to Middleham.

“What happened? Where are they taking Maximilien?” The man was still speaking, ignoring her signal. She heard Richard hiss.

“Leonardo, shut up. She’s just saved us.”

Aspen liked him best already. She waited for a count of thirty and breathed out. Unless they were planning a stealth approach and had narrowed in on their location already, Aspen was probably safe with Richard and Leonardo for the moment.

She finally backed away from the door and turned her full attention to the men.

XXX

The woman who saved them, her waist length hair in lots of tiny intricate braids and partially dyed gold, turned towards them and Richard’s eyes dropped to her arm.

Her metal arm.

They eyed each other for a moment before she finally spoke, her voice quiet and deep.

“Hi. I’m Aspen Strong. Um, this is a rescue and not an arrest.” She rubbed the back of her head with her human hand, combing her fingers through the braids.

“Is that what happened to Robespierre?” Richard asked. She gaped at him for a second. Her eyes slid to the left, and her head tilted just slightly.

“The other guy, he’s Robespierre?”

Leonardo jumped in, apparently getting over the shock of being told to be quiet. “Si! Where are they taking him?”

Aspen shrugged. “I have no idea. Maybe to a labor camp, or possibly straight to Chikara Haruka.”

“Who?” Richard demanded. Was this who had been following them with soldiers?

“She’s head of security for the Federation. She’d uh, probably not taking your sudden resurrection well, I’m guessing.” Aspen tilted her head again and nodded slightly. “I think all of her guys have moved though, so we can move to the other warehouse. Then we’ll go to England.”

Leonardo held out his hands, looking distressed. “Wait, we have to retrieve Robespierre.”

Aspen blinked at him. “Um. Good luck with that. He’s probably already miles away and surrounded by officers and grunts.”

Richard took firm hold of Leonardo’s arm again. “We’ll have to leave him, there’s nothing we can do about it now.” He addressed Aspen.

“Lead on.”

A Fiction Agreed Upon. Episode Eleven: La Égalité. Part Three.

Part Three.

Kamala almost ran them over, her had frantically whipping back and forth as she scanned the street. She turned the corner and stumbled directly into Richard, who caught her before she could fall to the ground. She gaped at him for a moment before brushing off his hand.

“How on earth did you even find me?” She demanded to Leonardo, who shrugged.

“Observation. Also you mentioned that you lived in Cairo, so it seemed natural to assume you would be here.”

She shook her head, apparently stunned. “You are outrageously lucky. Tomorrow I leave for a tour on board the U.F.S. Omega.”

“What is that?” Richard asked, curious despite himself.

The tall woman looked down at him, eyes wide. “A spaceship.”

Richard blinked and decided that now was not the time to demand a reasonable answer to his question. She led them down progressively smaller avenues, until they emerged onto a quiet street, lined on one side with stately sand colored building on one side a massive river on the other. Leonardo stopped and stared.

It amazed Richard how the man could shrug at things like people disintegrating and being kidnapped from his own time but a river stopped him in his steps.

“She’s beautiful,” Leonardo whispered, eyes round.

“The Nile? Yeah, the view is great.” The woman nodded her head to the building on the end of the street. “Come on.”

Past the building seemed to be a more industrialized area and Richard watched as sparks flew out of a refinery.

A smithy of some sort?

As Richard ponder the chances of getting a sword here, he was led a set of exterior stairs until Kam stopped in front of a door. She placed her hand on the screen outside of it and he heard the lock click. She pushed it open and waved them in.

“Um I guess I’ll get you guys water. And have any of you eaten?” She stuttered out as Richard looked around.

The rooms were small, no bigger than a servants quarters in Middleham. There was one small bookshelf, with some small volumes set in it. Robespierre was already edging his way over it. Past that a large east facing window, which was already losing light, and an evil look cat that perched next to a suspended potted plant. Most of the room was taken up by a large lounge, and short long table. One wall held one of the omni present screens and Richard decided that he was simply going to have to get used to seeing those everywhere he went.

Kamala tapped him and handed him a glass of water. There was ice in it. Even as he marveled, Richard wondered what this world had against beer, now.

“Here. I guess you guys have been running around all morning, from what Leonardo was saying.” She passed out another to Leonardo who was staring out the window to the river. He took it absent mindedly.

“Oui. It has been…trying,” Robespierre said quietly.

Kamala cleared her throat and sat down on the lounge. “So why are you here, exactly?”

Richard did not see a reason to dissemble and so asked her bluntly: “Do you have a way to send us back to where we belong?”

She sputtered, coughing on her own drink. “Like time travel?” She finally choked out.

Richard shrugged. “I suppose so.”

Kamala shook her head. “Time travel was disproven hundreds of years ago, at least with the elements that we currently know about. It’s impossible.”

Even Leonardo turned at this proclamation. Richard closed his eyes for a moment, his jaw clenched and a carefully cultivated self-control prevented him from showing how deeply that hurt him.

He really was never going to go home. To see Anne, or Lovell, or Edward. He was never going to ride in the forests near Middleham, hunting game, or go to York for the Christmas Mass.

It was a dream and to have it ripped it away was one of the greatest cruelties he’d felt in a long time.
When he opened his eyes, Robespierre had turned away, a hand over his eyes and Richard felt a flash of empathy for the man. He must have left someone behind as well.

Leonardo however looked uncharacteristically angry, staring at Kamala with a heavy frown.

“Why did you bring us back, if there is no way to return us to where we belong?”

Kamala shifted uneasily in her seat, twisting the cup in her hands.

“It was Rain’s idea,” she muttered resentfully.

Before Leonardo could berate the girl further, footsteps desended from a staircase past their kitchen. Another young woman, her skin the tone of fertile earth stepped onto the landing and did a double take.

“Oh hi, sorry I didn’t know we had people over Ka.” She smiled sheepishly.

Kamala was beginning to look alarmed, her gaze darting nervously from the woman back to them.

“It’s fine Tammy. They were getting ready to leave, anyway.”

Richard jerked. “Excuse me? You still haven’t-”

“And I can’t, so that’s that, right,” Kamala said, chewing her lip. The woman looked from Kamala to Richard them she clicked her fingers.

“Friends of Rain’s I bet?”

Leonardo coughed. “In a manner of speaking.”

“So she’d ready to come crawling back?” Tammy leaned down to grin at Kamala. “See baby, I told you, old woman can’t get along without you.” Then she kissed her on the mouth.

Richard blinked, mouth falling open.

Robespierre seemed to have been equally wrong-footed as he immediately began coughing. Richard glanced at him and found him sputtering into a handkerchief. Kamala broke the kiss glancing over at the Frenchman. Richard opened his mouth to speak and was immediately cut off by Leonardo.

“So you won’t help us? Help Rain?” His voice was oddly pitched, almost too loud and forcibly emotive.

Kamala looked at the three of them and shook her head. “I’m sorry, but no.” Tammy twisted her head to stare at her.

“Kamala-”

“No. This is Rain’s doing and I’m not interested in any of it anymore. If she’d gotten in over her head, she’ll just have to figure it out on her own this time,” Kamala said firmly, even as her eyes refused to meet any of theirs.

Leonardo sighed.

“I understand.” He placed the glass on the low table and smiled sadly. “Thank you for seeing us then, Kamala.” He offered out a hand to her. She stood and Richard noticed that she was nearly eye to eye with the other man.

“I am sorry, for this,” she offered weakly, shaking his hand.

Leonardo tilted his head, but didn’t say anything.

“Um, well it was nice meeting you.” Tammy said, still standing behind the lounge looking bewildered. Leonardo dipped his head to her, then turned to Richard and Robespierre.

“We should go,” he murmured, gesturing for them lead the way out.

A Fiction Agreed Upon. Episode Eleven: La Égalité. Part One.

Part One.

Middleham Castle. North Yorkshire. England.

Aspen Strong hummed to herself as she parked her hover bike in the underground parking garage of Middleham. Blanche had just come out with a new single and it was insidiously catchy. She was going to end up singing it all day, probably driving Jerome and Magpie crazy.

She brushed her braids back from her face as she locked the bike down. She’d gone last night to get them re-done and highlighted. Usually Aspen preferred a very dark silver in her black hair but a gold color had caught her eye and she was still adjusting to having the glitter catch her eye every time she turned her head.

Aspen yawned as she rode the security lift up into the castle proper. She was really going to have to talk to Jerome about switching watch shifts.

“Hey, morning Kami. How’s it going?” She caught one of the PR managers at the replicator. The diminutive woman smiled at her, grabbing her coffee and croissant from the machine.

“It goes, Aspen. Nice hair.”

She tossed her head, grinning and stepping up to the machine. Her metal digits slipped on the touchscreen.

“Thanks. I just got it done. Are you and Harm both here today?”

Kami nodded, taking a chunk out of her pastry. She held up a hand to her mouth and gestured.

“In the office?”

Kami nodded, and rolled her eyes.

“He’s still working on his coding for the, um, thing?”

Kami nodded and swallowed. “Yeah. He says he’s getting close to finishing it. He swears it’s going to revolutionize the way we find artifacts. I think he just hates doing field work.”

“Men, am I right?”

Kami snorted. “Yeah. Shame I married him, huh?” She checked her watch. “Speaking of, I should go make sure he’s not going off food again. See you around.”

Aspen nodded taking a sip of her coffee and winced. Too hot. “I’ll be around to do rounds in a tick.”

Kami left and Aspen made her leisurely way through the refurbished castle. The weak English sun was trickling through the hand-blown window panes. Thick tapestries, made as close to original as possible hung on the walls. A scrubbed wooden table, nearly the length of the hall, was sitting out. Plaques sat at every few feet, inviting guests to come and sit down to ‘experience life as it had been fifteen hundred years ago!’ People would tab the screen and trigger holographic tour guides and recreated historical figures to explain the history of the castle and Neville family. No one was here yet but Aspen thought she remember a group of kindergarteners on the schedule for later today.

Middleham had become the heart of a tiny kingdom of ‘historical fetishists’ as she’d heard it called in her time on the base. After she’d lost her arm during a drill of a interplanetary battle and been turfed into desk work, Aspen had jumped at the chance to work security for one of the ‘historical heritage’ bases under Magpie Jones. It was better than desk work, and quiet. Simple.

Aspen could appreciate simple.

At the end of the great hall, there was a modern staircase that led up the second story where the administration offices were. As head of entire endeavor, Magpie had been allowed where they wanted their offices to be located and had picked the rebuilt castle, of all places.

If Aspen had been in charge, she would have picked somewhere well, more modern. Or a pyramid. But that was her, and Aspen was the first to admit she didn’t really ‘get’ most of the long dead references Magpie liked to talk about, or the importance of the project Magpie liked to expound on every quarterly meeting.

“Knock knock!” She rapped on the door to Magpie’s office, peering in.

As always her boss was engaged in reading, hunched over their desk and square chin proper in their hand. They looked up and smiled at her, white teeth a smooth contrast to the dark purple lip gloss they preferred and looking expertly tailored as always. Aspen didn’t know how a person who spent ten to eighteen hours everyday in a decrepit castle always looked like they’d gotten professionally dressed by one of the designers from Monaco. But Magpie pulled it off.

“Good morning, Aspen. Have you checked in with Jerome yet?”

She shook her head, striding into the room. “Not yet, I’m going there next. Wanted to stop in first and check how the night was.”

Magpie dismissed this with a flick of their thin ochre fingers. A single diamond was glued to their pinkie nail, the rest merely polished to a high shine.

“Fine. Not as if we get much traffic passed one anyway. That’ll come with the off season. Go check with Jerome and let him go home. Then go swing by Harmony’s office. He’s getting close to being done with his coding.”

“Yeah that’s what Kami was saying. But, come on, Magpie. Do you really think that’ll work?” She scoffed. Magpie shook their finger at her.

“Don’t doubt human ingenuity. Asking ‘why not’ led to the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, the –”

“Yeah yeah, point taken, professor. Let me know when he makes his breakthrough or whatever.” Aspen turned and spoke over her shoulder. “Still just for bunch of artifacts.”

She laughed when Magpie muttered “Heretic,” under their breath.

XXX

Aspen spent the morning first, filling a report for her commander at Cairo and then walking the boundary of the castle. When she was on her way back, she swung by the office next to Magpie’s.

“Hey Harm. How’s the project coming?” She asked. The young man pushed his spectacles up his forehead and blinked blurrily. She could still see the lines of code reflecting against his ebony skin.

“Ughh. I’ve had code shooting into my eyes for the last eight hours. How do you think it’s going?”

She sat down on desk, staring down at the lines of code. With the visualization program, she could see actual building blocks and webbing of the coding.

“So what’s this gonna do?”

Harm rolled his eyes at her, grabbing a chocolate bar from his desk.

“We talked about at the last meeting, come on.”

“Indulge me.”

“Using the global networking surveillance system it’s going to search and find matching data, forms and recognize historically relevancy globally.”

Aspen stared at him, and waved a hand over her head.

“Um in English Rainbow Miller. Not all of us went to the North African Academy of excellence in programing.”

Harm sighed. “It’ll basically find historically relevant artifacts for us, by matching them to preexisting images. So say Queen Elizabeth the second is wearing an item in a photograph. Her tiara. Well this program will take the image of the tiara and match against every single frame recorded by the global surveillance system. Anywhere there’s a camera, that’s where this program is.”

Aspen stared at him. “And how did Magpie get the Federation to pay for this again?”

“Uh, boss has massive steel -”

Kami swung into the room, carrying to cups of coffee. “Java?”

Harm groaned. “Oh yes, baby talk dirty to me.”

Kami wrinkled her nose. “You’re weird. It’s good that I like weird, otherwise this would be awkward.”

Aspen rolled her eyes. “Well I’ll be impressed to see what it can do when you finish.” Harm sipped his coffee and grinned at her.

“We’re testing it this afternoon. Boss’s orders.”

Aspen cast a dubious look at the visualization program. It still only looked half built to her. “Better get on that and stop flirting, huh?”

“I’ll work even faster when you leave, don’t worry,” Harm smiled sweetly at her. Aspen laughed as she left.

“And pigs will fly and snakes will talk…” she muttered to herself, walking away. Harm was one of the cleverest people she knew, and she didn’t doubt his coding ability. She doubted that it would work.

XXX

Magpie had wanted to view the testing herself so they gathered in one of the halls, with a projector already set up and Harm helming the thing. He was busy typing, bent over and tongue in between his teeth. Magpie was pacing tight excited circles around the room. They looked like an eager child, hope and optimism shining in their eyes.

“What do you want to find?” They asked the room. “Let’s go around and indulge ourselves with some fantasizing.”

“I did that before I came into work today,” Jerome muttered lowly to Aspen, who smothered her giggles in a cough.

“Jerome, you go first,” Magpie ordered.

The other security officer blanched. “Um, uh. Well I guess it would be cool to find one of the sunken cities? Florence or New Orleans. Or maybe L.A.? Heh, what if we found the old Hollywood sign?” He grinned, brown eyes glittering. “I always liked all those old 21st century movies, before the war.”

Magpie nodded. “That’s a good one. Aspen?”

Aspen shrugged. “Maybe another one of the lost kings? We’re still looking for some of those ones that were privately acquired, right?”

Magpie frowned ponderously. “Don’t remind me. Ugh, what a disgrace, selling history to profiteers.”

“Oh! I want to find the Area 34 facilities. Holy cow can you imagine all of the debates that would solve, if we could prove it was developing atomic weapons and not hiding aliens?” Kami put in.

“Atlantis,” Harm muttered, still typing.

“What about you, boss?” Jerome leaned back on the scrubbed hardwood table. “What do you want to find?”

“Well,” Magpie colored slightly, tawny skin going darker over their high cheekbones and the bridge of their nose. “I want to find Tyrell’s confession, if there is one. It would basically swing the greatest cold case of all time one way or another.” They cast an admiring look at the wall, where the calm visage of the most famous resident of the castle, Richard the III, looked over them.

He had been the primary motivator for Magpie moving their office here, rather than staying in Cairo with the other Federation regulated cultural projects. Aspen had heard that they were obsessed with the dead monarch but never truly appreciated how much love one could have for a dead white man until she’d talked to Magpie about their passion project. Jerome called it ‘historical voyeurism’, something he thought everyone of the academic they worked with at Middleham had.

“It’s very nearly some kind of mania. They get their claws into a person or a time, or a war and spend the rest of their life on the planet picking it apart like it’s a compulsion. It’s a little creepy,” he wheedled.

“Yeah, but hey, at least they’re passionate about something. So many people just take whatever job the Federation gives out now a days, not thought about why, they’re taking it, or how it’s going to impact the world.” She argued back. Jerome had rolled his eyes.

“So, what’s so bad about that? It ensures everyone is at substance level. Who said you need to do what you’re passionate about to be happy? That’s what the rest of your life is about, anyway.”

Aspen snorted and slapped her co-worker on the shoulder. “That’s good, cause I think the only thing you’re passionate about is whose in your bed.”

Jerome grinned and flipped his tight curls out of his face. “Nothing wrong with that.”

Aspen observed the phenomenon in full force as all of the historians crowded around Harm, who was leaning back and studying the program.

“I think that’s gonna do it.”

Magpie clapped his on the shoulder. “We’ll never until we try. Turn it on, and let’s see what turns up.”

XXX

That had been two hours ago. Kami was sleeping next to Harm, head propped on his shoulder. Harm was absently watching the screen, while playing with one of the new Nintendo 4-Ds. The room was punctuated with the sound of tiny holograms squeaking while they battled each other.  while Magpie, Aspen and Jerome played Go Fish.

“Got any kings?” Aspen asked Magpie. She was sitting on 3, and just needed hearts.

“Go fish,” Magpie ordered.

Just then the program beeped, a pop up displaying a message that it the search had found something. Magpie threw their cards down in relief, revealing a hand of singles.

“I had you’re king, sorry,” Jerome smiled at Aspen who groaned and scooped up Magpie’s pile to reshuffle.

“Best three of five?’

Behind them, Harm was pulling up what the program had found.

“Huh, it says it from a public security camera. Um, in Paris.”

Magpie snorted. “I bet it’s of the La Gioconda.”

Harm tapped the board and shook his head slowly. “No. It says it’s from Place de la Concorde.” He pulled up the frame the program had focused on and blew it up so it filled the whole wall display.

The picture was clear, with only a little bit of bur around the edges. The colors were in HD, so Aspen could see the blue of the highlighted figure’s eyes and the sunshine reflecting off his dark hair. He was running, half turned and the camera had caught him in near perfect profile.

“Isn’t that-”

Magpie was already shaking their head. “That’s impossible. Pull up what the program is comparing it to.”

Harm silently complied and soon they had a side by side comparison to a facial reconstruction, based on a skull found in 2012. The contours, highlighted by the green grid overlaid flashed, and ‘100% Match’ flashed on the screen.

Magpie sat down, slowly in the chair next to Harmony who was frozen, hands hovering over the touchscreen.

“That’s not possible.” The words seemed to have scraped Magpie’s throat raw, and when she looked over, there were tears in their eyes. “It can’t be, can it?”

“Reincarnation?” Kami offered weakly after a moment. She ripped her gaze from the display to look around. “Cloning?”

Harm let out a choked laugh.

“That’s illegal under Federation law and you know it. Don’t you remember the Disney scandal?”

Magpie was still staring at the picture, hand pressed to their mouth. They seemed transfixed, but Aspen could see the processed being complied in their head.

“Harm, can you scan the rest of the video? Is there a part where his back is to the camera?” They asked urgently.

Harm’s hands shook as he did so. The man completed his turn and with his head down and arms pumping, he sprinted towards the transporters, following after two other running figures.

“Stop! Go back, right after he turns,” Magpie stood up and leaned forward, watching as the feed went back, and froze. The man’s mixed synthetic shirt pulled against his back, and the fabric revealed what Magpie had been looking for, but Aspen saw something different.

“Scoliosis!” They gasped.

“He doesn’t have an ID,” she pointed out at the same time.

Aspen and Magpie looked at each other.

“Oh my god. We found Richard the bloody Third.”

XXX

After that they came to an impasse. Aspen did a quick database search, and indeed discovered that Federation Special Forces had been ordered to Paris to track down ‘three renegade type four androids.’ However the order didn’t come from the Android Recovery Department, but all the way down from Chikara herself.

“The plot thickens,” Jerome muttered. Harm was busy trying to track where the man, King Richard, Aspen reminded herself went after he ran out of view of the Place de la Concorde cameras.

“What do we do when we find him again? Turn him into Chikara?” Kami asked breathlessly. Aspen hesitated.

Chikara was well known for her extremely protective view of the Federation. To the point where she’d basically pushed the Global Surveillance Program and Planetary Defense Corp single handly through Federation parliament. She was nearly a party of one. Chances were that if she had her sights set on Richard, it couldn’t mean anything good for him. What a dead monarch had done to offend the Head of Security, Aspen couldn’t imagine.

“Absolutely not.” Magpie’s voice rang out like a church bell. “He falls under historical reclamation and if you’ll remember, that’s my department. Chikara will have him destroyed, just like she campaigned to have so many of the heritage sights removed from the protected lands list.” Magpie shook their head gravely. “No. We cannot let Chikara get him. Harm, figure out where he went.”

“Then what?” Aspen asked. Magpie spun majestically.

“Then we reclaim him, for history.”

A Fiction Agreed Upon. Episode Ten: La Liberté. Part Four.

Part Four.

However getting to Cairo, even in the new world of terrors and marvels was proving easier said than done.

They had gone back to the carriage, after getting lost once.

“I thought you said you lived here for five years,” Richard pointed out to Robespierre.

“It was closer to four and a half actually,” Robespierre snapped. “Additionally, if you haven’t noticed, the city has changed significantly.”

“Oh please do not start now. You’ve actually managed to be civil to each other all morning,” Leonardo begged.

Turning onto rue Honore the three of them stopped dead, all bickering pushed aside.

“Turn around slowly,” Leonardo advised lowly, staring at the carriage which was now surrounded by uniformed figures. The carriage itself was being dismantled, and carted into a larger one, that was hovering a few feet off the ground. “Just walk back the way we came.”

Richard turned stiffly and fell in beside the other two men. Leonardo looked the least suspicious, shoulders relaxed, sketchbook tucked under his arm, and staring around as if there was nothing wrong. Robespierre kept glancing over his shoulder, his step quick and light.

They managed about a block before, as if of one mind, they all three broke into a run.

Sprinting past people of all colors and bright lights and crystalline buildings, Richard ran as if Lucifer himself had risen to chase him. The three of them raced away, dipping down countless alleys and nearly crashing into others. Eventually Richard slowed, and the others caught up with him.

“How on earth did they find us?” Robespierre panted out, clutching his side. He looked as if he did not run very often, face flushed and hair coming lose from the loose tail he wore at the base of his neck. He skittered to a stop next to Richard.

Leonardo slowed to a stop as well. He coughed twice, bent over at the waist.

“It was Rain,” Richard said grimly. “She would have told them we stole her property.”

“Likely. They could have also tracked us independently. The how isn’t important now. We need to get out of the city,” Leonardo spoke shortly.

“How?” Richard demanded.

“That terrible light machine that Rain took us in, we can use that,” Robespierre pointed out.

“We need the IDs to use them.” Leonardo shook his head, then stopped. “Unless, unless! We could tell them that we need to see Kamala that we were sent from Rain.”

“Yes, do you remember, Rain was able to get us on the um, uh, object,” Robespierre stuttered out.

“And you think this Kamala will help us?” Richard demanded, grabbing Leonardo around the arm. The man’s eyes took a distant look, and his mouth twisted slightly.

“Si.”

Richard met Robespierre’s eyes.

“Then let us go to Cairo.”

XXX

However first they had to get there.

Leonardo had found a city map, and was scanning over it. Richard watched in fascination it’s bright surface displayed images for food, hotels, and shows.

“What’s with the windmill?” He asked Robespierre.

The Frenchmen shrugged. “It wasn’t here when I was here. Neither was ah, the burlesque.” He adjusted his glasses, frowning dubiously.

Leonardo tapped the map and it magnified upon one part. “There it is. We should be able to use these, transporters to get to Cairo. They should be,” he turned to the east, “this way. They are located next to the Tuileries Gardens.”

Out of the corner of his eye Richard saw Robespierre shudder. The man’s footsteps were a little slower, a little more ponderous as they followed Leonardo.

The sun was high in the sky and Richard judged it to maybe be around ten in the morning. All of the odd people who lived now walked around, faces bent downwards to their lit up tablets or watching nearly transparent screens, projected out of bands they wore around their wrists. Some wore spectacles, that were lined with fine blue threads, and randomly laughed or smiled as if they were mad.

Richard grimaced. It was all mad. He hardly understood at all, from why Rain had seemingly picked him out of the blue, to how carriages floated magically.

Secretly, Richard was hoping that this other woman, was practiced in some art like Rain’s and would be able to return him home.

They turned onto a large square, with fine, large fountains on either side and the massive iron tower to the west. It was mostly deserted, with some people sitting around the fountains.

“Look, there they are.” Leonardo pointed to the magical transporters. He was smiling slightly, and raised an eyebrow at them. “Now we just have to- Robespierre?”

Richard glanced over and found the Frenchman had gone stiff and pale, as if in death. His eyes were enormous and round behind his glasses.

“What now?” Richard snapped.

Robespierre moved his mouth but no sound emerged.

“What?”

“I-I died here.” Robespierre gasped. His lips had gone a pale blue and he was shaking from head to toe. Leonardo stepped forward.

“Robespierre, it’s past. There’s no one here to hurt you now.” His tone was that of talking to a skittish horse, a low gentle tone.

However whatever had possessed the Frenchman had taken full hold of his body. His eyes were hazy and his breath was coming in short ragged breaths. He swayed on his feet slightly and his hands flitted around his face, clawing at his cheeks and forehead.

Richard took a step away.

“He’s been possessed,” he hissed to Leonardo. “Do something!”

“It’s not possession, it’s- it’s panic. Fear. Robespierre!” Leonardo grabbed the shorter man around the shoulders and shook him gently. However this had the opposite of the intended effect because Robespierre merely gasped and his eyes rolled back. He went slack in Leonardo’s grasp. The Italian cursed and glancing around, dragged him to the nearest bench, sitting him down. However he was insensible, mumbling and flailing weakly. Leonardo caught his hands and gripped them in his own. He touched the man’s face, gently tapping him.

“Shhh, shhh. Robespierre, Maximilien. Maximilien, you are alright. There is nothing here to hurt you. The guillotine is gone,” Leonardo crooned gently. Richard watched hypnotized as Robespierre seemed to come back to himself, gently. He groaned and his eye lids fluttered.

“How on earth did you do that?” Richard demanded. Leonardo shrugged.

“I’ve known men who had night terrors before. This is not so different.” He turned to the still shaken man, who was looking lost. “Maximilien, can you walk?”

The Frenchman put a hand to his head, but stood up, shakily.

“Oui, I-I think so.”

Leonardo dragged them both into the nearest building, Robespierre still looking shaken and pale. Richard looked back over his shoulder at the square behind them. To him it still looked innocent and mostly barren. However, from the way Robespierre clutched the wall to stay upright it was clear something had happened to him there. If Richard had to guess, it probably had to do with the ghastly scars that crossed the man’s face.

Richard thought that he’d probably deserved it, whatever had happened to him.

Leonardo didn’t seem to think so, practically holding the other man upright.

“Maximilien, it’s alright,” the Italian said quietly, patting his shoulder.

A cough from behind made them all turn.

“May I help you gentlemen?” The speaker was a dark haired, dark skinned women, dressed in simple back and white clothing. Richard looked around and realized a few people had stopped eating and were looking at them.

Clearly a tavern of some kind.

“Ah, yes. We are here to eat,” Richard told her.

The women looked at them with wide eyes, confusion and a hint of exasperation creeping in.

“Alright, do you have a reservation?”

A what? Richard wondered.

“No, I don’t think so,” he said aloud. The women stared at them silently, mouth open slightly.

“Let me see if we have any open tables. Why don’t you take a seat right on that bench and I’ll be back in a moment.” She gestured and watched them warily.

As soon as the women was gone Richard turned to Leonardo.

“What do we do?” He asked quietly.

“Maximilien, are you alright now?” Leonardo asked.

Robespierre nodded, looking less ashen than he had. “Oui.” A flush appeared on his face. “I’m sorry, I don’t know what came over me.”

Leonardo patted his shoulder again. “It’s alright, we don’t mind.”

Richard snorted. “I mind.” Leonardo shot him an unimpressed look.

Robespierre stood. “We should probably go before -”

“Gentlemen? We have a table open, right this way.” She gestured, clearly expecting them to follow her. Leonardo looked at them helplessly before following.

Richard set his jaw. “I blame you,” he hissed as he brushed passed Robespierre to follow the women. Robespierre glared at him, mouth twisting. He opened his mouth to respond but was cut off.

“Falla finita!” Leonardo snapped at both of them, grabbing Robespierre’s wrist, leading him along. “Petty bickering gets us nowhere.”

They were led to a table with three chairs set up around it.

“A waiter will be with you gentlemen in a moment, please look through our selection at your leisure.” With that the women quickly left, looking over her shoulder as she did.

Richard glanced around and found that they were still being stared at. Some of the patrons were whispering to each other, looking apprehensive or shifting in their seats. A table close by had a small ebony-skinned child, who was gazing gape mouthed at them. The little boy touched his mouth then looked at his hand, and to his father, then back at Richard. He crinkled his nose and pointed, looking back to his father.

“Don’t point, Beni,” the man chided him. He looked up at Richard, looking embarrassed. “Sorry. He’s just never seen anyone, um, like you.”

Richard frowned. “Like me?” Self-consciously he lowered his right shoulder.

“You know, white.”

“Oh.” Richard sat back. He glanced over to Robespierre and Leonardo. Robespierre was holding his hand to his cheek, and was anxiously biting his lower lip.

Leonardo was fidgeting with something in his lap, apparently oblivious to the conversation. However he looked up and made eye contact with the boy, grinning slightly.

“You are Beni, si?”

The child nodded shyly.

“Do you like birds?” Leonardo held up a folded cloth napkin, cleverly arranged to look like a little sparrow. The boy gasped and held out his hands. Laughing, Leonardo slid the napkin over where it was eagerly picked up. The boy held it up to his father who examined it, eyebrows raised.

“That’s very impressive, sir. What do we say, Beni?”

“Thank you,” he lisped quietly.

Leonardo laughed. “You’re welcome, Beni!”

Richard glanced around again and while many people had gone back to eating, the remaining gawkers were now exchanging amused glances or smiles. He looked at Leonardo with new eyes.

Robespierre was looking at Leonardo as well, a small smile on his face.

“That was a friendly thing to do,” he said quietly.

The Italian shrugged. “If we are attracting attention, it may as well be positive, si?”

Robespierre tilted his head. “I’ve never thought of it that way.”

Richard meanwhile had been suitably by distracted the menu.

“Do either of you have any idea what any of this is?” He asked quietly. Robespierre looked at it and quirked a coppery eyebrow.

“No, I’ve never seen any of it. Leonardo?”

“It looks like raw fish,” the Italian said after a moment of scrutiny. Richard looked at him blankly.

“Why would anyone -”

Leonardo hushed him, a man with an apron was headed over to their table.

“Afternoon gentlemen. Is there anything I can get you drink to start off with?”

Richard pinched the bridge of his nose. “Yes. Three beers.”

The waiter nodded. “Alright.” For a moment he seemed to scrutinize his face and Richard noticed a sort of glimmer went over the man’s eyes.

“And have you gentlemen looked over the menu?”

Leonardo nodded. “The uh,” he cast a frantic look over the hologram, “dragon roll?”

“Sounds good, I’ll be back with your beers in just a moment.” With that the waiter turned away.

Richard scrutinized Leonardo. “What is a ‘Dragon roll’?”

Leonardo shrugged. “It says it has eels and avocado.”

Robespierre cast a worried look at the Italian. “What is an avocado?”

“I do not know, but I suppose you will find out.” Leonardo leaned back in his chair.

“Us? Why not you?” Richard shot back.

“I don’t eat the flesh of animals.” Leonardo shrugged, smiling slightly.

“What?” It was the most absurd thing Richard had ever heard. Even Robespierre looked surprised, raising his eyebrows at the Italian.

The waiter came back and handed the beers out.

“Is there anything else I can get you gentlemen?”

“Yes. May I please have a glass of water?” Robespierre asked.

The waiter nodded and turned away until Leonardo called him back.

“Ah, and a small bowl of rice please?”

With the waiter gone, Richard turned back to Leonardo.

“What on earth do you mean you don’t eat animals?”

Leonardo shrugged slightly. “I do not wish to treat my body as a mausoleum, littered with dead things,” he flicked his fingers dismissively. “If you can get your subsistence without harming other living creatures, why wouldn’t you?”

Richard snorted derisively. But Robespierre was blinking at Leonardo as if they had only just met.

“That’s…That’s a very good point,” Robespierre said.

Richard rolled his eyes, but before he could argue back, the waiter returned with the ‘Dragon Roll.’ He set a small dish of rice in front of Leonardo and the water in front of Robespierre.

“There you go gentlemen. Is there anything else I can do for you?”

“No, merci,” Robespierre smiled at him.

“Excellent, the bill will be posted right at the bottom. Just transfer your credits when you’re ready to leave. Enjoy!”

Robespierre smile vanished as the waiter left.

“We don’t have any money,” he hissed as Richard reached forward to grab the one of the segments of the ‘Dragon’. It was wrapped in rice and something green. Richard picked it up and examined it closely.

“So?”

“So we can’t pay for what we’re about to eat, and that’s thievery.” Robespierre reached forward as if to stop Richard. In retaliation Richard popped the whole segment in his mouth.

It was cold and there was something slimy to it, but he could taste an underlying fishiness to it, just the mildest hint of brine. Robespierre was staring at him, sallow face pinched in disgust. Leonardo was also looking at him, mouth twisted slightly. Richard chewed and swallowed.

“It’s not bad. Additionally when I return to England, and explain who I am, we will more than easily be able to pay for some fish. It’s fine,” he insisted. Robespierre, looking mulish, crossed his arms over his chest and threw his head back. However Leonardo timidly started to peck at his rice.

Despite how meager it seemed, Richard found he was not going to be able to finish the Dragon and contented himself with the beer. He noticed that Robespierre did not touch his, or any of the food, simply sipping at the glass of water and casting cold looks at him and Leonardo. Richard resisted the desire to roll his eyes. When Leonardo had finished his rice, and took a cursory sip of beer, the waiter reappeared.

“How was everything gentlemen?” He asked genially.

“Serviceable,” Richard said.

“Excellent, thank you monsieur,” Leonardo cut over him. The waiter beamed and looked at them expectantly. Richard held himself carefully still, gripping his beer chalice.

The moment lingered and it seemed that the waiter was going to press the issue, until someone called for him. With a rather annoyed look he left. Richard sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. He got to his feet, and blinked. The beer had gone to his head faster than he thought.

“We should go,” Leonardo opinioned lowly, looking around. Richard nodded and grabbed the bag from under the table.

“I can’t believe you,” Robespierre was still hissing at them as they walked back outside, heading around the edge of the square to where the machines were. Richard knew the man must be feeling better because now he simply would not. Shut. Up. “Stealing, from the mouths of citizens! Refusing to pay your tab, and knowing you wouldn’t be able to!”

“Would you have us starve instead?” Richard demanded. However before Robespierre could respond, a voice from behind them shouted, “Hey! Hey! Stop! Someone stop them!”

It was the waiter.

Several people had turned to look, curious. Richard and Robespierre froze.

“What do we do?” Richard looked at Leonardo. The Italian grabbed Robespierre and pulled him along as he broke into a sprint.

“I have an idea, run!”

With that the three of them sprinted for the transporters.

A Fiction Agreed Upon. Episode Ten: La Liberté. Part Three.

Part Three.

Leonardo couldn’t stop looking back at the illuminated tower. It was one of the most beautiful things he’d ever seen, and he desperately wanted to go towards it, but Robespierre was taking them west, away from it.

The club had been a wash, with not even a plaque to explain what had happened to it. Robespierre had taken this hard, his head bowed and arms held stiffly at his sides as he marched ahead of them.

Leonardo stifled a yawn. His internal clock insisted it was extremely late, around midnight. His old age must have been catching up with him, Leonardo mused wryly. Aging a thousand years could really take it out of a person.

However it didn’t seem the three of them were going to find any safe haven for the night, and now having not better ideas were wandering west, peering down shadowed alley ways and seeking a place where a temporally displaced man might lay his head for the night.

He yawned again.

“How far outside of the city do you think we would have to go to find some woods?” Richard asked. “We could likely make camp there for the night and continue on in the morning.”

Robespierre shrugged. “Paris is extensive. It would take us most of the night to even walk to the boundaries of the city, considering how much it’s expanded in the years. We could always go back to the carriage, um, thing.”

Leonardo shook his head at this. “I think this is a bad idea. Rain will probably tell them that we took the vehicle. They will find it.”

“They?” Richard asked.

“The aliens, the Komali. And since that was an ambassador, whoever is in charge of the earth now, will be informed too,” Leonardo stroked his fingers through his beard, still far too short after years of having it down to the middle of his chest. He looked over to the ex-king.

Richard sighed. “So we are in the middle of a hunt, and we’re the prey. Excellent.”

Robespierre had gone quiet, and Leonardo looked up, to ask him if he could possibly think of anywhere else in Paris they could go, only to discover he was gone.

Leonardo stopped and caught Richard’s shoulder, staring around.

“What?”

“Robespierre has left us.”

“Excellent, that’s one problem solved.”

Leonardo smothered his sigh. He caught sight of the petite Frenchman across the road, seemingly speaking to group of young people who were sprawled on the ground. He let go of Richard to follow, curiously.

He heard the Englishman curse and after a moment, clump after him. Leonardo smiled slightly.

He reached where Robespierre was standing, the yellow light casting odd shadows.

“Leonardo, these students know where we can stay for the night,” Robespierre informed him. The one closest to them, a long legged and thin man in a truly eye searing jerkin, nodded and pointed.

“Go two blocks that way, and it’s catty corner from the dispensary. The couple who runs it, real nice, will take anything you have, if you don’t have enough credits. They also don’t make you show your ID, either.”

Leonardo nodded, the important bits of information floating to the top of the deluge. Location, payment, no ID.

Excellent.

“Thank you, we probably would have been walking all night without your aid,” Robespierre gravely informed the youth, who waved it away with a flip of his golden-tinged hand.

“De nada. I’ve been there, man. Good luck.”

They walked away and Robespierre looked over at Richard, green eyes blinking rapidly in the dim light.

“And now, we have a place to stay.”

XXX

The ‘place’ ended up being a stone building, with bars over the windows and one lamp torn off it’s front and sagging sadly.

“It’s practically Fothinghay.” Richard deadpanned as they stood outside, surveying it. Robespierre tsked dismissively.

“You’d rather the ground? Or to back under Rain’s tyranny?”

Leonardo rolled his eyes. “Let’s go in.”

Inside was cramped and somehow seemed more dimly lit than the street. There was an over stuffed divan and a scratched and battered table. Behind a portal in the wall and man sat, reading from a tablet. Leonardo cautiously approached.

“Ah, hello sir?”

The man looked up and Leonardo had to stop his jaw from falling open. Instead of two brown eyes, the man had one, clear and attentive. The other was clearly made of metal and as Leonardo looked, he watched the machinery in side of it narrow, and knew he was being carefully examined. Behind him Richard drew a sharp breath and Robespierre coughed, quickly smothering it.

“Something I can do for you?” The man’s voice, deep and resounding, boomed out.

Leonardo mentally slapped himself.

“Si. Do you have any rooms for the night?”

The man laughed. “Rooms? Bunks, my friend. I have two left.”

Leonardo stuck his hand out. “Deal.”

He took it, shaking. “Payment? Or are you staying more than the one night?”

“Just tonight. Would food do?”

The man paused to consider this, and Leo watched his eye expand and contract as he looked up at the ceiling. “Sure, I don’t see why not.”

Leonardo turned to face a very unhappy looking Richard and a dismayed Robespierre.

“You heard him, pay the man.”

“I blame you,” Richard hissed, re adjusting the now much lighter bag on his shoulder. They were following a series of illuminated arrows on the wall, each one of them appearing just after the pasted the previous.

“I did not want to sleep on the ground. This is better than nothing,” Leonardo insisted tiredly. Behind him he heard Robespierre yawn and took it as a general agreement. The arrows stopped and were now illuminating a door with bright red light.

Leonardo pushed it open quietly, the sound of deep breathing and snores wafting through it. The three men walked to the very other side of the room, next to a window that looked out over the street and toward the tower.

The beds were stacked on top of each other, like in a barracks and Leonardo heard Richard mutter before bracing his foot on the bottom bunk, hefting himself up and sliding into the bed in a smooth motion. A moment later, there was a thunk as he threw his shoes to the floor. Someone muttered sleepily.

“The two of you had better be there in the morning,” the Englishman’s voice came down.

Leonardo and Robespierre looked at each other. Leonardo cleared his throat once before moving to the window side of the bunk and sitting down. It was thin and he could feel the places where the support beams held it up. He leaned down and pulled his shoes off, setting them neatly aside. He grimaced and sighed softly before flipping back the covers and laying down.

It seemed clean, if nothing else.

After a moment he heard Robespierre walk to the other side and feel the mattress dip as he slipped in next to him. It wasn’t a large bunk but, Robespierre was a rather small man and Leonardo could only feel a brush of his clothing and a vague warmth.

Leonardo took a deep breath and shut his eyes.

XXX

For Max, sleep was mercifully dreamless. When he was blinking his eyes open the next time, a dim light was starting to illuminate the room. He listened carefully for a moment, and surmised that Leonardo was likely still asleep, another small mercy. Max turned carefully to see.

Leonardo was asleep, laying flat on his back, with one arm draped over his eyes. His chest was rising and falling with his breath.

Maximilien hadn’t known if it was going to be awkward to sleep next to the other man or not. The last time he’d slept in a bed with another person, he’d been six, and his sisters had been in his care at his grandparent’s house. Leonardo had seemed annoyed to have to share the bed, immediately turning his back to Max when they got in.

In an odd way, it reminded Max of Louis le Grand; the sounds of other’s sleeping, the uncomfortable bed, going to sleep with pangs of hunger.

He could nearly hear Camille trying to whisper to him from across the aisle.

Max sighed and rubbed his eyes.

Being back in Paris was clearly making him sentimental.

Bitterly, he reflected, that they probably shouldn’t have come. Obviously the Republic was seen as a failure, and the fault likely lying with him. Rain had alluded to it enough, and the cold steel plauque on the ground seemed to be the final nail in the coffin.

Here lies Maximilien Robespierre: Tyrant and Failure.

Light slowly slid over the floor as Max was lost in his reflections. He distantly heard Richard turn over on the bunk overhead. Leonardo shifted, so he was lying on his side, facing Max.

“Robespierre, are you awake yet?”

“Oui.”

Leonardo yawned, and scrubbed his hand over his eyes. “Not the most comfortable bed I’ve ever slept on, but it will do. Do you have any suggestions over where we should head today?”

Throat dry, Max shook his head. Leonardo sighed and sat up, tapping the bunk overhead.

“Richard. Get up.”

Max could hear the Englishman roll over and a moment later his head, hair rumpled and flyaway from sleep and face stern and hard appeared.

“What?”

“Good morning to you too. We need to figure out where to go. I think we are out of options in Paris,” Leonardo leaned over and retrieved his shoes, pulled them on. Max fumbled for his glasses.

“London, probably. Or York. I was always more popular in the north.”

Richard looked over at Max, as if expecting a retort. Crossing his arms over his chest, Max merely shrugged.

Leonardo looked thoughtful.

“Possibly…” The Italian muttered. He reached under the cot and pulled out his sketchbook. Flipping to the beginning he turned it around to show them a sketch. A woman’s face with soulful eyes and a pinched, concerned expression in the lines of her forehead and lips.

“Who is that?” Richard asked. The English king had removed himself from the top bunk, snatching up his boots.

“Kamala Manson. She was Rain’s assistant. She was there when I, ah, woke up.”

“Do you think she would help us?” Robespierre cast a dubious look at the book. Leonardo added an odd line to the sketch, even though it looked finished to Max.

“It seemed to me that she did not approve of what Rain was doing. She might be persuaded to help us, or at least explain the situation to the Komali,” Leonardo said softly.

Richard sighed and met Max’s eyes. He shrugged and threw a hand up in surrender.

“Did she say where she lived?” Maximilien asked.

“Cairo, Egypt. I’ve never been there.” Leonardo added, nearly plaintive.

Richard grabbed the bag off the top bunk, and threw an apple to Leonardo.

“It’s the best plan we have for now.”

A Fiction Agreed Upon. Episode Ten: La Liberté. Part Two.

Part Two.

The temperature must have been colder than Max remembered it, because he couldn’t stop shivering as they walked along the river. That had not changed at least, still winding her way through the quarters under bridges and cutting her way down south. However, walking along it made Max even colder, the gentle water seeming to suck warmth straight from the air itself.

“Here,” Leonardo offered him his jacket, made of a course wool and held together by a single line of metal teeth that came together cleverly.

“M-merci,” Max said through chattering teeth.

Richard did not seem affected by the cold, but he was English, so that was to be expected, at least according to Maximilien. They were all cold hearted.

“Is there another place we could go?” Richard asked, lowly. People passed them on the street but did not seem to pay any attention to them. However it seemed to Max that every passing glance was going to catch onto their furtive actions, and they would be sent back to Rain, or worse, to the alien.

Maximilien stopped, looking over the river. They were walking along the same path he used to take to the Jacobins.

“If my club is still there, we’d be welcomed.” Probably.

“And what does that entail? Richard asked, dubiously.

Max rubbed at his temples. “They are good men, who only ever held the best interests of the people in their hearts.” He stared at Richard coldly, lowering his hands. “Not that you would understand that-“

Richard growled. “Listen you little-“

Before Leonardo could intervene or Richard could finish his insult Maximilien turned a corner and stopped dead, causing them all to trip into each other.

“Robespierre?” Leonardo tapped him gently. “What is wrong?”

Max, speechless, simply raised his hand and gestured. The other two men finally looked up.

“My god,” Richard breathed.

“Dio mio,” Leonardo agreed.

“That, was not there the last time I was here.” Max said dryly.

Ahead of them, rising over what must have been the very heart of the city was a tall metal sculpture. It rose like a mountain over a plain, lit up in golden lights, illuminating the entire city. It was dazzling and Maximilien couldn’t quiet decide if he adored it, or hated it. Leonardo started toward it, eyes wide.

“What is it?”

“I have no earthly idea. A building of some sort?” Max guessed. Leonardo had whipped out his notebook and was sketching it furiously, seeming entranced by the thing.

They all jumped when a voice spoke from behind them.

“First time in Paris?”

The speaker was an older woman, with a cart of plants. She wore a long grey and yellow striped scarf around her head, and her brown eyes studied them intently. She adjusted her cart so it was carefully between them.

“Ah, yes?” Leonardo spoke for them all, the smallest hesitation in his voice. Maxime coughed, struck by the sudden insane urge to laugh.

“La dame der fer is beautiful, no?”

Richard pointed. “That?”

“Oui. She’s stood there for over a thousand years. She’s been rebuilt twice, but she’s made her way through.” The woman looked at it fondly, and it suddenly struck Max that this was his national kin.

“Are you from Paris, citizeness?” The title slipped out without him meaning it to, and he winced. The woman cast him an odd look.

“Oui.” She grinned suddenly and snapped her fingers. “The north?”

Max inclined his head bashfully. He was never going to lose his Artoise accent and had been teased about it more than once from Camille. “Oui.”

“I am surprised you have not been to visit, then. Too much time in Monaco?” She waved the thought away, smiling playfully. “Ah it does not matter. Young people. If you are going to see her, you need to continue down this rue.” She winked. “She is hard to miss.”

Max bowed. “Merci beaucoup, madame.”

She shook his hand when he rose, her soft hand gripping his firmly. “And thank you for your service, sir,” she told him gravely, before hefting her cart away.

“Service?” Richard asked when they started away. Maximilien shrugged.

“I don’t know what she meant.” He looked at Leonardo, biting his lip, a sudden thought occurring to him. “You don’t think she recognized us, do you?”

“She thought you were a solider, your scars.” Leonardo waved at his own face and neck. Max felt his stomach drop to his shoes.

“Oh.”

“You should be honored. She thought that you had been in battle.” Richard remarked.

Maximilien stayed silent. He still didn’t quite know how to feel about the bullet scars on his face. They pulled and itched fiercely, and he was uncomfortably reminded of that day. The smell of blood, and gun powder in the air. Augustin screaming, Couthon’s body thudding to the ground. The bang of the gun going off in Phillipe Le Bas’s hands.

He shuddered.

Night had settled in around them and Max looked up at the stars. Or he tried to. Nothing more than a few distant pinpricks of light could be seen. He blinked in bewilderment.

“What on earth happened to the sky?”

The other two stopped and looked up. After a moment Richard growled and pinched the bridge of his nose.

“What else? Lands hand sank beneath the ocean, the stars are gone, and I’m in Paris. Did the end of days happen and no one notice?” He demanded at large. For a horrifying moment Maximilien found himself agreeing.

Leonardo was still staring upward.

“It’s the lights,” he muttered after a moment.

“Pardon?” Max asked.

Leonardo gestured around. “All these lights, they are much stronger than candles or fires, si?”

“Yes.”

“All of the light they are giving off, it is obscuring the stars.” He shrugged, then stiffened, a wide-eyed look of amazement coming over him. “Which would mean the same thing happens during the day when the sun is out! Which would mean that the stars are stationary as well!” He clapped, beaming widely. “I knew it!” Richard snorted.

“The sun is not stationary. It goes around the earth.”

Maximilien raised a hand, smiling slightly. “Actually it does not. Leonardo is right, the sun is the center and all the other planets rotate around it.”

Both of them looked at him in silent amazement. Max shrugged.

“It was taught to me in Louis le Grand. I’m sorry if I don’t know the specifics.”

“I was right?” Leonardo sounded stunned, a deep contrast to the confident tone he’d been using till then. “Dio mio.”

“Never mind that, what the devil do you mean, the earth isn’t the center? The Lord made it,” Richard demanded. “That’s what the Church says.”

“Yes, and it’s incorrect,” Maximilien raised his eyebrows in emphasis.

Richard looked between the two of them.

“Heretics. I’m surrounded by heretics,” he muttered, jaw set. Maximilien could barely prevent himself from rolling his eyes.

Leonardo seemed to have shaken himself from his amazed stupor. He let out a nervous little chuckle.

“We should keep moving, si? We still have no place to sleep tonight,” he pointed out. Maximilien nodded, then gestured.

“It’s this way.”

Or it used to be.